7 February 2013

Zambia: Chirwa Unveils Zambia Railways Revival Plan

Photo: Premium Times
The Former Zambia Railways Limited Board is reportedly thrilled with the outcome (File photo).

THREE-year period is all Zambia Railways Limited (ZRL) managing director Clive Chirwa needs to reconstruct and deliver what looks like a huge dream of a highly-modernised and electrified Zambian railway transport system.

This is certainly a highly ambitious reconstruction masterplan brought to the fore by Professor Chirwa, months after President Michael Sata appointed him managing director for the repossessed Zambia Railways.

Looking at the electronic and animated pictures of what Prof Chirwa plans to be an up-to-the-minute future Zambia Railways in the years he is suggesting, would not leave one without a speculative mind on how he hopes to accomplish this entire enormous dream.

Prof Chirwa seems to have put pen to paper; all that is remaining is implementation without any further delays.

For this dream to come true, Prof Chirwa has spelt out that, he would not only rely on his brains alone but also contributions of ideas from other think tank engineers most of whom he has said should be of youthful age and Zambian.

That is perhaps why his presentation during a discussion programme organised by Engineering Institute of Zambia on Thursday night last week was entitled "Your contribution to the Reconstruction of Zambia Railways, a nucleus for national revolution."

The reconstruction project to be embarked on for a three-year period would create 10,000 jobs mainly for local youths.

Over the years, Zambia has relied much on the technological powerhouse of the Chinese government in major construction projects like roads and even the same Zambia Railways.

Now Prof Chirwa feels otherwise, as he believes Zambia has the potential of doing it all by itself, though he is not completely shutting doors to external help.

He is right that all the materials required for the reconstruction of the railway will be locally sourced and manufactured where need be.

"All we need is commitment and implementation, no need of feasibility study because that is just a waste of time and resources, the plans and designs for the new railway transportation solutions are ready... no need for feasibility study," he said, attracting a huge applaud from the audience.

Prof Chirwa is confident that his railway masterplan would help boost the economic power of the railway potential.

He sees a modern railway structure that if completed according to plan is likely to put in the shade most of the existing structures that are currently treated as 'trendy'.

Prof Chirwa's vision is to have an efficient railway network that will be profitable as a core business and that will be the envy of the world and strategically connecting Zambia to its natural borders and overseas.

How will all this happen? with the initial US$150millon (KR750 billion) from the Government for the project, Prof Chirwa says he will institute a team of workers that will put everything from paper to the ground in a period of six months although 48 per cent of additional financing would have to be floated to the private sector as key stakeholders to revamp the deplorable rail system.

He says the reconstruction process will be done in phases and that Kabwe town situated in the central part of Zambia will be the main hub of the of the railway reconstruction.

This will be so because the town will house the largest station with offices and factories for manufacturing wagons, Now, in the three-year period, Prof Chirwa intends to create nine groups which he refers to as modules and each will be tasked to reconstruct 100 kilometres of railway line.

The nine modules have been broken down as follows: Module one: Victoria Falls to Mayoba a stretch of 105kilometres, Module two: would work from Mayoba to Choma, which was 112kilometres; module three would work on the 101 stretch from Choma to Monze.

Module four would work from Monze to Naluwama which was 101kilometres; module five would work from Naluwama to Chisamba which was 109kilometres, while module six would undertake works from Chisamba to Luanshimba which was 103kilometres.

From Luanshimba to Kafulafuta which was 104kilometres, would be undertaken by module seven.

Module eight would work from Kafulafuta to Mabote (94kilometres) and Mabote to Chingola (92kilometres).

To ensure that this does not just become another failed project, Prof Chirwa says speed, commitment and good work attitude would have to be upped. He believes undertaking such a project would not need a single shift of work but should be a tree-shift 24/7 project.

On paving the way for the masterplan to take place, most of the structures that have encroached on the railway premises would have to start moving as a fence 50 metres away from the rail will be constructed.

To make sure that the project does not die out after the completion of the first phase, second and third, Prof Chirwa says an institute of rail technology has to be introduced for the continuity and maintenance of what is to be a multi-billion dollar infrastructure.

North-Western Railways Limited proprietor Enoch Kavindele pledged his support to Prof Chirwa's strategies and timeline, saying the plans are achievable and should be backed by an effective transport policy.

Mr Kavindele said a clear transport policy is needed to regulate what was transported on road and on rail and to give independence to both sectors.

Zambia Railways Workers Union (ZRWU) president, Nathan Zulu has, however, pleaded with Government not to concession the railways sector in future because previously, it did not benefit the country.

He said Government should learn from the nine years of the country losing out when the railway system was concessioned to Railway Systems of Zambia.

Mr Zulu, however, thanked Government for the bold decision to repossess the railway sector because it did not benefit the country.

"We thank the Government for the bold decision it took to reposses the Zambia Railways because as a country we lost nine years of development due to the pathetic condition of the railway company when it was in private hands," Mr Zulu said.

"And our plea as a union to Government or any government to come never again to privatise the company which is one of the major contributors to the development of our economy," he said.

He said there is need to change the negative perception some people have about the railway transport.

Mr Zulu said the union would work together with Government to realise its plans of revitalising the railway sector.

In September last year, Government revoked the concession agreement of the Railway Systems of Zambia and placed it under Zambia Railways Limited.

Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda said the repossession of the company was necessitated by mismanagement of the assets which resulted in untold deterioration.

Mr Chikwanda said the operations of Railways Systems of Zambia were detrimental to national interest.

The other reasons for repossessing the Railway Systems of Zambia were abandonment of the inter-mine railway network, resulting in heavy inter-mine cargo moving by road, high railway transportation costs, resulting in excessive road usage for heavy cargo and minimal or non-utilisation of railway transportation.

Mr Chikwanda says RSZ allegedly failed to meet minimum service levels for passenger freight despite being a beneficiary of a substantial Government subsidy and unacceptably high levels of derailments, loss of life and property leading to enormous cost to Government.

He said there was blatant disregard for the provisions of the concession agreement and unsatisfactory performance, resulting in great risks to the sustainability of railway transport in Zambia.

Mr Chikwanda said the measure is necessary because any additional delays would result in further destruction of the railway assets, thereby making it more expensive for the planned upgrade of the railway necessary for it to meet regional and international standards.

Mr Chikwanda said Government has prepared resources for the continued operations and rehabilitation of the railway line.

It is, however, highly anticipated that, once the railway transport system is fully revitalised, pressure on the roads would be reduced as most heavy cargo would be carried by train.

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