GOVERNMENT plans to open the country’s railways sector to private investors in order to bring in new capital as well as help modernise dilapidated infrastructure and improve service delivery.
Vice President Joyce Mujuru told a recent infrastructure development forum in the resort town of Victoria Falls that the National Railways of Zimbabwe’s (NRZ) virtual monopoly over the sector was under review.
"The Government is currently reviewing the regulatory framework governing rail transport with a view to establish a regulatory authority for the sub-sector,” Mujuru said.
"The rail transport system will be opened for strategic partnerships in rail construction, while rail services will be opened to the private sector."
The country’s railways infrastructure is virtually inoperable due to lack of investment over the years with the World Bank recently advising the NRZ to shut down some 75 percent of the rail network because it had become dysfunctional.
Nine of the parastatal’s ten electric locomotives are understood to be parked at its Dabuka marshalling yards just outside Gweru as the company, which is reportedly sitting on a huge debt pile, cannot raise the funds to repair them. At least $274 million is required to re-capitalise NRZ.
The government recently announced that it had acquired new locomotives from China but these have not been delivered over payment issues.
Meanwhile Mujuru said private sector capital would be brought into the sector through private-public sector partnerships (PPPs).
"The Government adopted Private Public Sector Partnerships (PPPs). Such partnerships have brought a revolution to infrastructure development,” she said.
"Concepts such as Build, Operate and Transfer, Build, Own and Operate, as well as Rehabilitate, Operate and Transfer are now common language in Zimbabwe."
A similar arrangement was done with the Beitbridge Bulawayo Railway (BBR) company in 1995.
The US$65 million project involved the building and rehabilitation of 317 km of line between Beitbridge, the busiest cargo border crossing point in the region, and Bulawayo, ensuring providing quicker and more efficient access to South Africa and its ports.
The line provided a more direct route for freight giving transporters – who previously had to go through Botswana -- significant savings in time and money for transporters.
BBR, whose backers included South African companies, Nedcor Investment Bank, New Limpopo Project Investments and Old Mutual, was also awarded a US$270.5 million contract in 1999 to build the planned Harare--Chitungwiza line although government later cancelled the deal.