THE National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is desperately seeking investment to pull it out of the many operational challenges it is grappling with.
This has been going on for a long time, almost 20 years.
Freight volumes have plummeted from as high as 18 million tonnes per year to only 2,5 million tonnes last year. This represents a further decline from 2,8 million tonnes moved in 2019.
The drastic fall in freight volumes means a corresponding decline in revenues. With limited income, the parastatal is failing to build new infrastructure or rehabilitate that which exists. Railway lines are wearing out and there is little money to fix them. Cautions — the railway line equivalent of potholes on roads — are many.
The signalling system isn’t in the right condition, forcing the parastatal to sometimes use manual methods of traffic control.
Wagons and locomotives are aged, thus not strong enough to move large volumes of cargo. The rolling stock is not only aged and prone to frequent breakdowns, but also small in number.
NRZ is facing immense challenges indeed, hence the long search for a way out. It has been seeking investment from railway companies in India, Indonesia and Russia among other countries with no success.
In August 2017, the parastatal signed a US$400 million agreement with the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group/Transnet Consortium. We had high hopes when the new investors took steps to boost the parastatal’s fleet.
However, that work was not in tune with the benchmarks set out in the partnership contract. As a result, the NRZ cancelled the deal in July last year for non-performance.
The search resumed.
In June, representatives of the NRZ board and management led by chairman Advocate Martin Dinha travelled to Turkey and signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Yapi Merkezi, a big rail services company.
A delegation from Yapi Merkezi is in the country, following up on the June agreement.
We are hopeful that at long last, the NRZ will, in Yapi Merkezi, find a partner with the financial and technical standing to get the trains moving again.
NRZ acting public relations manager Mr Martin Banda said Yapi Merkezi representatives are assessing the country’s railway infrastructure to be able to come up with the scope of work and the sum of money needed for that work to be done.
“The tour is as follow-up to a visit by NRZ board members and senior management to Turkey in June this year where NRZ and Yapi Merkezi signed a MoU to collaborate in the modernisation and rehabilitation of the country’s railway infrastructure,” said Mr Banda.
“The visit by the Yapi Merkezi team will give the delegation a first-hand appreciation of the status of the NRZ infrastructure as well as NRZ short-medium-long-term business and strategic plans. It will also provide an opportunity for the visitors to inform the NRZ and the Government of Zimbabwe about their organisation, its business interests, capabilities and expectations.”
Founded in 1965, Istanbul-based Yapi Merkezi is a world-class contracting company that specialises in rail engineering, design, manufacture and construction.
It has built more than 3 600km of railways across the world. In Africa, Yapi Merkezi has completed a wide range of jobs in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Algeria, Morocco and other countries.
When the Dubai Metro was completed in 2011 it was the “longest, fully automatic, driverless, most comfortable, safest and most luxurious metro built with a single contract in the world.” Yapi Merkezi together with its Japanese partners Mitsubishi, Obayashi and Kajima built that infrastructure in the United Arab Emirates.
A company of Yapi Merkezi’s global standing and long history of delivering successful projects is a good choice to seek a partnership. The NRZ deserves praise for picking the Turkish giant.
We are optimistic that the negotiations that are going on will result in a deal being signed. With such a partner, the national railway sector — from the lines and associated infrastructure to the rolling stock even up to management approach — would be transformed to be among the best in the world.
The economic recovery and growth that Zimbabwe is experiencing and will continue to experience as it moves to being an upper middle-income economy in the next nine years, can only be sustained if the country has a working railway system for efficient and cost-effective movement of freight.
That is why we pray that the ongoing discussions between the NRZ and Yapi Merkezi will result in an agreement being signed as soon as yesterday, and immediately executed successfully.