September 13, 2005

Report: Railway infrastructure getting worse

The railway infrastructure in the country is worsening amidst very little improvements, a government inspector of railways (GIR) report has revealed. According to the GIR report, the state of the railway track was now in a worse condition than was the case before the concession agreement due to lack of maintenance. And official government sources at the Ministry of Communication and Transport have expressed reservation on the manner the railway track was being rehabilitated by the concessionaires, RSZ. "The condition is worsening as RSZ maintenance levels on the railway line track are below par because they are not doing track rehabilitation," revealed the report. The report further stated that phase one rehabilitation works done by RSZ could best be described as merely minimal maintenance works meant to keep the railway line a little bit safer.
The government official who preferred to remain anonymous said people would like to see full rehabilitation works being done on the railway line as was the case with the road networks in the country. He stated that it was very unsafe to move fuels on the railway line because fireguards were no longer being made along the railway line. "The railway and locomotive maintenance works should be done in accordance with maintenance manuals. It is worrying that government was receiving these reports but not acting in any manner. "They do not believe what we tell them. We advise that ministers should undertake a tour to inspect the railway line." The source also claimed that the Zambian government had been asking for advances from RSZ before the declaration of dividends, a move that has led to certain expatriates to boast that government has made itself impotent to control RSZ.
Meanwhile, Railway Systems of Zambia (RSZ) general manager Babe Botana said that daily routine rehabilitation works were being executed on the railway track. "We are doing regular and routine truck maintenance using the services of the small track maintenance contractors who have been assigned certain sections of the over 1000 kilometres railway line from Livingstone to Chililabombwe," he noted. On the rehabilitation works, Botana said RSZ was in full compliance with the concession agreement as far as the investment plan was concerned. "As RSZ we have plans of undertaking to improve the status of the network to be within the standards of the Southern Africa railway association (SARA)," Botana explained.
"RSZ management managed to increase the rail network stretch in the first year of operations compared to ZR records. We have also managed to record a net profit against the Zambia Railways loses and government is benefiting." Botana said in the first phase of the investments plan of between three and five years, the budget constitutes at least US $20 million with about US $13 million dollars earmarked towards the railway line rehabilitation programmes.
Meanwhile, communications and transport minister Abel Chambeshi also observed that vandalism was rampant on railway lines. He said that according to information availed to the communications ministry, people who wanted to sell fishplates to scrape metal dealers removed 56 rail joints on the Ndola and Kitwe railway line. The stealing of fish plates had led to cancellation of train services between Ndola-Kitwe. However, Chambeshi also appealed to RSZ to speed up the process of replacement of timber slippers with concrete ones. "We understand RSZ's financial constraints but we are dealing with human life, "he stressed.
According to Kabwe Chamber of Trade and Commerce (KCCI) executive member Wilfred Wonani, RSZ was furthermore taking advantage of the defective concession agreement. According to him, there was currently no telecommunications along the railway line thereby endangering the lives of locomotives drivers. "Money should have been transferred in the railway track reconstruction than it going into the treasury. We see very little being ploughed back into the railway line," Wonani noted and emphasised that there were too many issues that needed to be addressed urgently by government, one being the defective agreement it had signed which was also prepared by RSZ." Accoding to him, the only problem Zambia Railways had was the poor state of the railway line, which prompted the need to concession it in the hope of rejuvenation. (The Post, Lusaka)

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