The Botswana Railways (BR) and National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) last week re-launched their Francistown/Bulawayo passenger train service aimed at easing movement of people between the two countries.
The service comes back to life for the first time since it was suspended nearly six years ago and was hailed by transport ministers from both countries ‘as indicative of the two countries intentions to promote “ bilateral trade, tourism and cultural interaction” between their nationals.
“This is not only because we are neighbors but most importantly because, culturally and historically we have a lot in common,” Transport and Communications Minister, Lesego Motsumi said.
“It is worth reminding ourselves that this train service historically contributed significantly to the movement of our people since the opening of the railway line between the two countries in the late 1890s, it used to be the only means of public transport between Botswana and Zimbabwe,” Motsumi said.
The rail-line linking Zimbabwe and Botswana is the initiative of the former British colonial master, Cecil John Rhodes, who had the ambition of conquering the whole of Africa from Cape Town in South Africa up to Cairo in Egypt. As part of the plan he built rail line linking the mineral rich South African province of the Great Triangle with Zimbabwe cutting through the eastern part of Botswana.
In the initial stages, it was used to transport cheap labour and minerals ÔÇô mostly gold ÔÇö from north of Limpopo to South Africa.
“The government of Botswana and in particular my ministry is highly committed to the improvements of the rail sub sector within the SADC region, It is my believe that SADC can and should significantly reduce its transport cost in order for it to have any chance of being a significant player in global trade,” she said.
“Therefore I would like to encourage BR and NRZ to rise to the challenge and make sure that the infrastructure at their disposal is utilized in a viable and complementary manner, not only for the mutual benefit of the two countries but for the whole SADC region,” Motsumi added.
The revival of the rail network has prompted the Zimbabwe authorities to work on plans aimed at turning a sharp knife on NRZ’s mountain of debt and a rigorous rehabilitation programme with a view for the rail line to regain its “lost glory and fortunes” of the yester-years.
Other measures put in place for the railway transport to re-gain its momentum include the installation of television sets and radio to give commuters the comfort of catching up with the events while on board.
The move is expected to ease congestion on the dilapidated public road transport which is currently the only popular means of transport between the two countries.
Zimbabwe’s Minister of Transport and Communications, Mr Mushohwe said, “The resuscitation of this railway route speaks volumes of shared vision of both our railway and government.” He added that the launching of the passenger service to Botswana meant more than just a celebration.
“It is a further demonstration of government’s commitment towards the provision of an alternative and affordable mode of transport to the people of Zimbabwe in particular Zimbabweans who will benefit from the convenience of this service during their business errands across the border,” he said.
The passenger train for Bulawayo, which is being re-introduced after six years, would be departing Francistown at 11:00 am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and arriving at 16:35pm and leaving Bulawayo on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:30 am arriving at 3:00pm.
The maiden ride will offer travelers the benefit and pleasures of having their immigrations and custom red tape sorted out by both Botswana and Zimbabwe officials while on board the train.
Above enjoying the luxury of a reliable service and freedom to travel safely, the service will be cheap at P15 per head from Francistown to Bulawayo or Zimbabwe $400 000 in the reverse.
The train which will board and drop passengers along the way from Ramokgwebana to Tsamaya sidings and Westacre to Plumtree, has standard coaches that can carry up to 800 passengers.