The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) has reported a decline in goods carried to two million tonnes in 2010 from 18 million tonnes shipped in 1998. A government report says declining volumes following a plunge in industrial output have resulted in staff numbers at NRZ’s Bulawayo headquarters dropping to 2,000 in 2010 from 8,000.

“Apart from the rapid slide in industrial output, which sustains operations in large logistical companies across the globe, the NRZ has been hamstrung by massive inter-parastatal debt,” the Financial Gazette writes. :The NRZ had been facing serious operational problems since 2000 when the country’s economy lurched into one of the world’s worst recessions, punctuated by hyperinflation and foreign currency shortages.

“A report by the World Bank recommended in 2009 that NRZ should decommission two thirds of its aged tracks, and implement an extensive rehabilitation programme.

“The company has been a victim of serious vandalism.

Government last year allocated $US15 million for track, wagon and locomotive rehabilitation and refurbishment programmes at the NRZ. But finance minister Tendai Biti said ‘requirements for NRZ infrastructure rehabilitation and maintenance far exceed budgetary capacity. Hence, the 2011 national budget interventions will be limited to on-going basic refurbishment programme of wagons, locomotives, track and signal systems to sustain current capacity’.

“For decades, Bulawayo, which is the headquarters of the NRZ, had thrived on the company’s strength to provide employment. But today, NRZ – once the biggest employer in Matabele-land – is barely surviving.

“The parastatal has been trying to reintroduce steam trains and is rehabilitating its diesel locomotives to remain afloat after 10 years of vandalism of its infrastructure – from signalling equipment to electricity cables. In May last year, it was estimated that 36% of the NRZ’s diesel locomotives were in service and that only 64% of its wagons were operational.

“At the time, reports said more than $US10 million was required to resuscitate the electrified route from Dabuka to Harare. But without a proper monitoring system in place to reduce vandalism, NRZ public relations manager, Fanuel Masikati told the Financial Gazette, it would be unwise to reintroduce electric trains. The threat of vandalism, he said, was still high.

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