Byron Mutingwende

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.


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Though some motorcyclists wear little more than swimsuits, most try to temper their desire for two-wheeled exhilaration with a dose of self-regard.

Alpinestars, the cycle-sports outerwear company, seems to have scored one for the safety-minded. The company – with offices in northern Italy, Los Angeles and Tokyo – has developed an airbag system that cushions riders’ torsos in case of a crash.
Housed in a vest that fits into select jackets from the brand, the system adds minimal bulk while maximising a rider’s defense mechanisms.


A rigid polymer plate protects the rider’s spine and houses the system’s control unit. (Alpinestars)

Adjustments in a rider’s position or style are not required. When the Tech-Air Street airbag system’s sensors determine a crash is underway – a conclusion that is reached within 30 and 60 milliseconds – compressed air is released from a pair of cylinders, instantaneously inflating strategically positioned air bladders.

The system is stitched inside a vest that in turn zips within the company’s Valparaiso and Viper jacket models. The Airbag Control Unit and air canisters fit into a rigid section – modelled on a conventional back protector – along the rider’s spine. The entire device is activated when the wearer zips the Tech-Air-equipped jacket closed.


The vest zips inside either of two compatible Alpinestars jackets. Above, the Valparaiso model. (Alpinestars)

Airbags are positioned front and rear, providing coverage of the back, shoulders, kidney area and chest in the event of a crash. Riders would be hard pressed to detect a vest under a wearer’s jacket, though when the airbags inflate, a rider so-dressed appears to be wearing three sweaters.

Tech-Air systems require no connection to the motorcycle, so wearers can hop from one bike to the next without compromising operation. Users must, however, remember to charge the vest’s battery pack, which is good for about 25 hours of riding when fully topped up.

The Tech-Air Street system is the result of a decade of research on the road, at temperatures between -10C and 50C , Alpinestars says. The equipment has also been tested on competitive circuits, where racing versions have protected MotoGP aces Marc Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa from crash injuries. Indeed, a full racing suit for recreational sportbike riders and club racers would not be surprising down the road.


In testing, the company ensured that a rider and passenger would retain control of the bike were accidental inflations to occur. (Alpinestars)

The system even is intended to protect stationary riders, in the event of a rear-end collision when waiting at a traffic light, for example. Other tested contingencies include a rider who wears a backpack over the jacket system, as well as a rider and rear passenger who suffer simultaneous accidental deployments, to ensure stability is maintained.

Alpinestars notes that the Tech-Air Street’s CE certification clears the system for ship, rail and air transport, meaning holidaymakers can take their protective equipment aboard. (The picture is less clear for those travelling in the US, considering authorities’ antipathy towards CO2 tire-inflation cartridges used by bicyclists. The Transportation Security Administration website does, however, note the admission of “small compressed gas cartridges” when used in “life vests,” which the Tech-Air could be considered, even though the rule is aimed at floatation vests.)

The Tech-Air will be available in select European markets in mid 2015, with US sales and other makerts to come later in the year. Initial pricing for the vest is 1,200 euros ($1,440), which mates to either the Valparaiso (650 euros) or Viper (350 euros) jacket. Pricing for the US market will be announced closer to the system’s availability date.


The vest’s Airbag Control Unit electronics module. (Alpinestars)

Source: BBC Auto

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