Government delays in commissioning work for the Harare- Chitungwiza railway line is taking a heavy toll on residents as they grapple with unreliable and unsafe transport on a daily basis.
Residents often have to pay inflated bus fare after work as commuter omnibus operators randomly hike the fares especially if it rains.
“As if the exorbitant fees we are charged to use commuter omnibuses and other forms of public transport are not enough, we continue to lose many precious lives in road accidents on a daily basis,” complained Pasinawako Mukayi, a resident of Chitungwiza waiting for transport at the corner of Jason Moyo and Julius Nyerere streets.
Mukayi was registering his disappointment with the increasing road carnage caused by reckless public transport drivers and deteriorating roads while the government takes no action.
Commuters have to contend with reckless driving by commuter omnibus operators who are known for their flagrant disregard for road rules. Many of them are always in a hurry which leads to many avoidable accidents.
Amid these transport blues government stands accused of stalling the construction of the Harare-Chitungwiza railway line. A passenger train from Harare to Chitungwiza would improve cost efficiency and ensure that people are transported safely between the two cities since the highway road is famed for its tragic accidents.
Evidence over the past years has shown that railway transport is much cheaper and safer compared to road transport. In the 1980s the government of Zimbabwe put in place plans to construct the Harare-Chitungwiza commuter railway line but this has remained on the shelves without any implementation.
A Harare based youth organization has claimed that it has tried in vain to engage government to implement the construction of the railway line. In a letter in our possession Zimbabwe Youth Development Trust (ZYDT) wrote to the Ministry of Transport in 2013 with the intention to acquire a concession grant to construct the railway line in partnership with China Southern Railway (CSR) but the ministry is yet to acknowledge receipt of this letter.
ZYDT says it has held several meetings with Mpofu beginning February of 2013 to date for them to acquire a concession grant to construct the railway in partnership with China Southern Railway (CSR) but the minister has not made a formal response to the request.
Efforts to get a comment from Minister Mpofu were futile since at one time he promised to talk to this reporter at a later stage before his phone went unanswered by the time of going to print.
CSR have just concluded a $26 billion merger with CNR, making them the world’s largest train makers. Combined the two companies have been responsible for the construction of the world’s longest high-speed railway network in China, Brazil, Ethiopia, India and South Africa.
The failure by government to act speedily on such infrastructure proposals has thrown into question its commitment to building infrastructure through public private partnerships.
Many projects have been stalled in the country as government officials have been reported to demand bribes and other incentives to authorize any big projects. In 2013 President Mugabe was told by former South African President Thabo Mbeki that some of his ministers were demanding $10 million bribes to facilitate projects.
But commuters and travelers have been the most affected by these delays considering that they have to be forced to use unsafe and unreliable commuter omnibuses to and from work on a daily basis. Last year 10 commuters perished in an accident on the Harare –Chitungwiza highway.
The country’s transport services have deteriorated to appalling levels, with an increase in road carnage witnessed on the country’s potholed roads. Railway transport is cheaper and safer compared to road transport and the later would provide relief to economically hard-pressed Zimbabweans.
It stands to be seen whether the ministry will consider the proposal for a public private partnership proposed by the ZYTD and its Chinese partner but until then commuters will have to endure transport blues caused by lack of reliable and cost effective alternatives.