The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is operating below 30% capacity owing to financial constraints to fund its recapitalisation drive.
This development has seen the countryâ€™s road network being the worst affected as all the heavy goods that are ordinarily expected to be transported through rail are being ferried by road.
The NRZ has thus become the missing link in the countryâ€™s economic revival.
The railway transporter ceased to play its part as a driver of economic development owing to various challenges such as dilapidated infrastructure and lack of recapitalisation.
With all these developments, all sectors of industries which used to rely on rail such as the mining sector, agriculture, industry and energy sectors are now depending entirely on the road network, a situation which has led to the quick deterioration of the countryâ€™s roads.
As a result, about US$3 billion is now required for the rehabilitation of the same roads, a situation that could have been avoided had the NRZ played its role.
Over 30 tonne haulage trucks take to the roads everyday, destroying what has been left of a formerly vibrant road network which used to be a pride of Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe Institute of Engineers Immediate Past President, Engineer Wingfield Vengesayi says the results of the failure by the NRZ to operate at full capacity are there for all to see, citing the destruction of roads by trucks which surpass the carrying capacities that they were designed for.
â€œOur roads have been dealt a heavy blow by the failure of the National Railways of Zimbabwe to fully play its part in the transport sector. The roads which have a 30 year lifespan are now in a poor state. With the overload by goods expected to be carried by roads, we are really in trouble. It only makes economic sense to revive the rail network,â€ said Engineer Vengesayi.
The Zimbabwe National Road Administration (ZINARA) is feeling the heat as it has to raise funds for the rehabilitation of the roads which are in a poor state due to failure by the NRZ to fully perform its mandate as the strategic link of economic sectors.
ZINARA Spokesperson, Mr. Augustine Moyo says the pressure exerted on the roads by heavy trucks is negating all efforts aimed at reviving the countryâ€™s economy.
â€œAbout US$3 billion is required to rehabilitate the roads. If the National Railway of Zimbabwe was fully functional, this could not have been the case,â€ Mr Moyo said.
For the legislature, a law that compels all businesses to use rail transport for heavy cargo is the only avenue that can be used in efforts to revive the NRZ.
The Chairman of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development, Mr. Blessing Chebundo says there is need for a comprehensive legislation which his committee is already pushing for as the collapse of the National Railways of Zimbabwe will spell doom for the economy.
â€œWe are in the process of pushing for a law that compels all businesses to move cargo using rail rather than road. If all the heavy cargo carried by roads is offloaded to rail, we will see changes in the economy,â€ said Mr Chebundo.
During its peak, the National Railways of Zimbabwe used to transport 18 million metric tonnes per year. However, the target set for 2012 is 6 million metric tonnes which might not be met as the NRZ is incapacitated.
With Zimbabwe slowly recovering from the decade long economic challenges caused by illegal sanctions, the NRZ has become a missing link in these initiatives.
The NRZ has an established rail system that can enable the country to develop its export markets, through lines to the east with the Mozambique ports of Beira and Maputo, to the south, linking with Botswana Railways and South Africa Railways and to the north linking with Zambia Railways and to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Tanzania.
Currently, only 13 locomotives are functional against an average requirement of 78.
3 427 wagons and 130 coaches are operational against a requirement of 4 201 wagons and 144 coaches.
The whole electrified section between Harare and Dabuka has been vandalised, rendering electrical locomotives useless.
While the country could have been talking of introducing tube trains, it has been taken 30 years back as diesel-electric locomotives are the only ones being used.
Can Zimbabwe afford to ignore the NRZ and yet still hope for an economic revival?
Is there a future for the Zimbabwean economy without the NRZ?
In all this, has government been serious in addressing such a crucial part of the economy?Â