“Give BR a chance! At a time when many Batswana had almost given up on Botswana Railways (BR) as a company that has failed dismally on its mandate, it is refreshing to learn that the management has been hard at work devising ways of diversifying its revenue streams.
“A few days ago, Botswana Railways invited the public to a groundbreaking ceremony to build a shopping mall at their site near Gaborone station. The immediate reaction in some people's minds is to dismiss this new venture as an admission of failure by the BR management, particularly on their core business. When they were established, Botswana Railways was primarily to help ferry big volumes of goods into and out of Botswana. Most of these goods involved heavy and bulky materials that will be cumbersome to
transport on the road networks.
“We are all aware that BR was facing stiff competition from haulage companies, some of them operating from neighbouring countries. Equally important was the mandate to offer reliable and cheaper passenger transport. Over the years, BR has been doing a splendid job in passenger transport. Since the Botswana Railways train fares were very competitive, the BR passenger trains became the favoured means of transport for many people.
“When BR stopped this service a while ago, there was a widespread public outcry. The issue is a very emotive one. Many Batswana, on account of this discontinued service, are likely to brand BR a failed organisation. We want to be a little patient with BR. It is important for BR to invest in other areas in order to run a profitable business. We believe that this investment on the land that has been lying unused for ages could just be the boon needed to transform BR into a profitable organisation that has always depended on government grants.
“The good thing is that BR is using land resources that they have not used before, in the process creating much-needed jobs for the economy. We understand that once the mall is fully operational, a total of 3,000 people will be gainfully employed. It is equally gratifying that this massive mall will be largely owned by a public company in contrast to many similar projects that are owned by foreign interests. BR, however, should be mindful of the sentiment amongst local people that the organisation should not completely abandon its original mandate of providing reliable and cheap
transport for commuters. Using the same imagination and innovation that saw the birth of the Rail Park Mall, we expect to see the passenger train come back some day.
“It is important for BR not to abdicate this colossal responsibility because BR provided service to the poor and less privileged.'