The Sunday Mail
A critical analysis of the country’s railway network system reveals that it follows areas that receive good rainfall, are endowed with fertile soils and have thriving cattle ranches.
Besides the farming communities, the tracks were also designed to connect areas that had giant mining companies to facilitate export of the minerals and bulky produce to Western capitals.
Matabeleland South and North were favoured to fall in the Great Track route heading north of Africa.
The route fulfilled Cecil John Rhodes’ dream of connecting Cape Town in South Africa and Cairo in Egypt.
Mutare and Harare were connected with a line leading to Mozambican ports to the Indian Ocean.
In Mashonaland West, the railway lines ended at Lions Den.
However, as more Zimbabweans become major players in an economy that has been diversified through the successful land reform programme and mining, the complexion of the country’s railway network should now change. There are successful farmers hinterland who are running successful farming businesses, who are yearning for affordable transport, while the mining sector has been revolutionalised to accommodate more indigenous people.
Government has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the agriculture and mining sectors.
Besides, the coming in of the new economic dispensation has brought in massive investment commitment (close to $20 billion) mainly in mining and farming.
The question that begs for an answer is : Is our railway transport system ready to handle the anticipated business boom?
Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo is confident that sooner or later, the country will have a cobweb of railway lines with the potential to move freight and passengers to many places.
The minister also believes that new tourism avenues will be opened to enterprising Zimbabweans as the new railway lines will be pass through wildlife sanctuaries. He also believes that more jobs will be created in the process.
The Diaspora Investment Development Group (DIDG) and South Africa’s Transnet recently supplied locomotives and coaches to the National Railways of Zimbabwe under a US$400 million deal to recapitalise the rail company.
This needs to be complemented by the construction of more railway lines to ensure more reach to many customers scattered across the country.
Minister Gumbo said, “As you are aware we have roped in DIDG, so far on a loan, while they are manufacturing our wagons and locomotives. They have given us 200 wagons, this will ease movement of goods in the country, 37 coaches and 14 locomotives. That is why you see movement of trains, although it is not to our satisfaction.”
Minister Gumbo went on to spell out the roadmap that Government intends to implement. The master plan will have far reaching positive consequences to the economy through facilitation of trade.
“We need to construct more railway lines to connect the country, so we are constructing one in Lions Den to connect with Kafue in Zambia, Harare to Nakala up North/East to Mozambique (sic). Beira is becoming too congested as a port so we want to connect with a new port in northern Mozambique,” he said.
Besides facilitating trade, these new lines will also provide huge tourism business that will provide accommodation facilities for tourists.
The scenic mountains along the Nyamakate area in Hurungwe up to the Zambezi River will definitely be favoured by many tourists.
“We also want to construct a line that connects Masvingo and Mutare, then another one connecting Hwange, passing through Gokwe where there are coal mines.
“The other line should come from Kwekwe and connect directly with Lions Den so that it becomes easy to move cargo. The track will connect coal fields in Sengwa, Kwekwe and Lions Den. These plans are in place in the ministry and only await implementation,” said Minister Gumbo.
The country has a total track length of 4,313 km. Zimbabwe’s railway gauge of 1,067 mm is the same as in all southern African countries. .
Due to poor rail connectivity in Zimbabwe, road infrastructure has suffered a lot as businesses use trucks to transport their cargo.