In the excitement to restore the passenger train service, an MP has alerted parliament to one very important fact that government may have overlooked.
When presenting budget estimates for the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Minister Tshenolo Mabeo, announced that after a persistent public demand, the Botswana Railways is reintroducing passenger services train to run between Lobatse and Francistown.
“The plan is to have a daily scheduled night service from each end by December 2015. Day schedules will be considered to augment road transport during holidays. A tendering process for about 36 passenger coaches is on-going with an expected award date of April 2015,” the minister said.
Rising on a point of clarification, Francistown West MP, Ignatius Moswaane, wanted to know what would become of the “many” buses that were bought to fill the market gap that was opened by the train service being discontinued.
“The situation shows that all of them are going to end up in the matter between,” said the MP, using the colloquial term for the legal notice carried in newspapers when one’s property is put under the hammer. “I don’t know if this eventuality was ever considered.”
Mabeo cast his response within a survival-of-the-fittest framework. He began by telling parliament that the government encourages competition in business.
“And when Batswana say they want the passenger train service restored, we should listen to them,” he said.
Part of the attractiveness of the old train service was that its fares were relatively low. From what the Minister revealed, the new service could see a completely different pricing scheme, one aligned to market forces.
“We are not going to charge extremely low fares. We are going to ensure they are appropriate in order that we don’t go back to the previous situation that made us to discontinue the service,” Mabeo said.
As part of its recapitalization plan, Botswana Railways (BR) will buy eight locomotives. The Minister said that these locomotives are at procurement stage and are expected to be delivered by end of 2016. BR has also developed a dry port at Walvis Bay in Namibia on behalf of the government and the facility was opened for business in September last year.
“The sales leads are promising under the automobile sector. The first consignment of 142 vehicles was received during the month of February 2015 with a future estimate of 4 500 per annum,” Mabeo said.