MUCH of the chaos on the country’s roads and in the towns’ central business
districts could be lessened through properly thought out reliable train transport
services for commuters.
Every day, the inconvenience or trauma of confronting prospects of travelling in
kombis or pirate taxis/mushikashikas inevitably leads to the legitimate question;
where did the Freedom trains go?
Such an enquiry is not fuelled by the love of free services. Rather, it is informed by a
quest for affordable, convenient, safe and secure travelling.
If one uses Harare as an example, there are workers who live in Marondera,
Bromley, Ruwa, Mabvuku and Masasa but find commuting to and from work a daily
nightmare. Equally, there are those from Norton, Rydale Ridge, Kuwadzana,
Budiriro, Mufakose, Kambuzuma, Rugare, Highfield and Southerton areas. There are
also others from Nyabira, Mount Hampden, Tynwald, Dzivarasekwa and Cold
One can add the plight of Bulawayo, Gweru and Mutare commuters to the list.
Without a viable alternative, they find themselves hostages to kombi and
The current Zimbabwe Republic Police’s “Operation Tame the Traffic Jungle”, is
meant to bring sanity to the roads, but kombi and pirate taxi operators, see it as an
opportunity to abuse, harass commuters and profit from the plight of the commuting
public by increasing fares on the flimsiest of excuses.
This is why it is high time the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) rethinks its
business model around provision of reliable urban commuter train services. The NRZ
does not have to look far – the Gautrain in Johannesburg, South Africa, is a good
example from which to learn and draw lessons.
Generally, trains run on time, are a safer mode of transport, their fares are fixed and
one can, in effect, buy a month’s train ticket because there are no haphazard upward
fluctuations in their prices as encountered on kombis and pirate taxis, and there are
no incidents of travellers being robbed by train crews while travelling very early in the
morning or late at night.
Efficiently run trains take off a lot of traffic from the roads, thereby decongesting the
roads. An example is that for every passenger train with 10 carriages, this can mean
transporting about 1000 commuters – that is a lot of kombis/pirate taxis off the road,
and one can imagine the impact of such decongestion on the roads?
Of course, an efficiently-run passenger train system will remove the appetite among
motorists to take to the road since they can arrive at their destination, earlier and
safely, while affording them time to be doing something in between boarding and
A reliable train service can also mean ability and capacity to move industrial goods
safely and on time, again removing the need for haulage trucks from the country’s
road network, making roads safer and lowering the number of road traffic accidents,
as is the current pattern.
The NRZ has a lot on its plate to accomplish and rescue the commuting public and
industry players from rapacious public and commercial transport operators, thus
lowering the cost of travelling and doing business, as well as bringing back the joys
of travelling and seeing the country on the train.