Oliver Kazunga, Senior Business Reporter
THE National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) and its partners have refurbished the Nandi-Mkwasine railway line in Chiredzi at a cost of more than $10 million.
The refurbished 34.5-kilometre track will be commissioned at Zone 3 Mkwasine next Wednesday, NRZ public relations manager, Mr Nyasha Maravanyika, confirmed.
He said rehabilitation of the line was a result of a successful collaboration between the Government and the European Union (EU), which provided the bulk of the funding under the National Sugar Adaptation Trust through Canelands Trust. Canelands Trust is an organisation that helps outgrower sugarcane farmers in the Lowveld, Tongaat Hullet and NRZ.
“The EU provided a grant of $7.495 million to buy necessary materials required for the refurbishment and upgrading exercise while the NRZ provided technical expertise and carried out the upgrading work,” said Mr Maravanyika.
Work to rehabilitate the line started in 2013 and was done in two phases creating more than 100 jobs for members of the local community who were employed by the NRZ as casual labour. The old track was made of rail manufactured between 1930 and 1956, which had deteriorated due to wear and tear as well as damage from derailments.
“The refurbishment exercise saw an upgrading of the track from 30 kilogramme/metre track to a heavier 40kg/metre track and the replacement of steel sleepers with 34 000 concrete sleepers. The 30kg/metre track is designed to carry light loads using light (small) locomotives.
“However, cognisant of the need to move greater tonnages of sugar from the fields to the mills, NRZ allowed the use of heavier locomotives which could only travel at restricted speeds and resulted in increased maintenance costs on the line,” said Mr Maravanyika.
He said the refurbishment had also been necessitated by the need to cater for an anticipated increase in sugar production in the area.
“The completion of the rehabilitation project means that heavier locomotives capable of moving increased volumes will now haul sugar without speed restrictions, reducing reliance on costly road transport,” he said.
It is hoped that upgrading of the line will benefit new farmers resettled by the Government in Mkwasine under the fast track resettlement programme as they will be able to move increased cane volumes to sugar mills in Triangle and Chiredzi.
In the 2014/16 sugar season, farmers produced 1.4 million tonnes of sugarcane, of which 740 000 tonnes was moved to the mills using the railway line.
The rehabilitation of the line is one of the measures being undertaken by the NRZ to improve capacity.
The parastatal is embarking on a $400 million recapitalisation exercise, which will see investment in track rehabilitation, acquisition of locomotives, wagons and Information Communication Technology among other infrastructure to capacitate the organisation to increase freight volumes. The Diaspora Investment Development Group/Transnet Consortium was awarded a tender to recapitalise the parastatal and the Government has granted NRZ the greenlight to open negotiations that will lead to the injection of capital into the organisation by the consortium.
Ex-Minister of Transport, Dr Joram Gumbo (far right) receives a map showing railways network system from Southern African Railways’ Association (Sara) board members during a conference in Victoria Falls yesterday