8 January 2013

Namibia: Great Need for North-Bound Passenger Train Service

Windhoek — Renewed calls for long-distance passenger train services between Windhoek, the central areas and the northern regions have resurfaced, as commuters find themselves stranded in the northern regions.

Hundreds of commuters are stranded in the northern towns of the country due to the lack of adequate public transportation, a scenario that has now become an annual occurrence since most commuters coincidentally continue to choose to travel at the same time each year.

Commuters are once again camping at bus terminals in the main northern towns, and the Namibia Bus and Taxi Association (Nabta) together with the local police have turned to willing private car owners to offer lifts to those in need.

Yesterday fresh voices came to the fore asking for government to investigate the shortage of a long-distance passenger train transport connection between the northern regions and the central parts of the country.

By yesterday large crowds of passengers were still gathered at bus terminals in Oshakati, and other towns since the weekend, all awaiting transportation to destinations in the central and southern parts of the country.

"Tough decisions need to be made now by the government to ensure that these key transport infrastructure projects, and others we have identified - are undertaken before it is too late," complained northern businessman Stephanus Shimaneni of Shimaneni Investments.

There are still no passenger train services to the northern regions, despite the completion of the modern multi-million dollar railway network, which stretches as far as the Oshikango border post in the Ohangwena Region, with smaller stations dotted along the way.

National railway operator, TransNamib, has put the blame on the dilapidated stretch of railway line between Kranzberg and Otjiwarongo, a stretch that has been rendered unsuitable for passenger trains for the last seven years.

However, TransNamib also does not have enough passenger coaches, while the luxurious, 'Omugulu Gwombashe Star', bought specifically to cater for the northern railway line is not designed for long distances.

It can only travel a distance of 80 kilometres. Other less luxurious Chinese manufactured coaches are servicing the network to the southern and coastal areas of the country.

"The train will work as soon as the railway line is fixed, because it has not been fixed since it became unfit for passengers seven years ago," Christina Kharigus the control clerk at Transnamib Passenger Department in Windhoek told New Era days before the just ended festive season.

TransNamib is currently operating passenger services from Tsumeb to Oshikango, operating on the all-new rail stretch. The operator has not been able to provide figures of the number of passengers who made use of the service, that TransNamib continues to advertise in local newspapers.

For the past two years, north-bound passengers aboard TransNamib trains had to be shuttled by bus between Kranzberg and Otjiwarongo during the festive season. However, even this service has been discontinued, with TransNamib saying the shuttling of passengers bloated their operational budget.

"Hiring of buses for this journey is very expensive. This does not mean that we do not value our loyal passengers, but TransNamib is currently facing financial challenges and we are hopeful that we can provide uninterrupted services same time next year," Elaine Claasen, the Company Secretariat assistant at TransNamib, had told this newspaper earlier.

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