Saturday, October 24, 2020

Costly Botswana Railways passenger train fails to take off, twice

FRANCISTOWN ÔÇô The newly introduced BR Express, a passenger train owned and operated by Botswana Railways this week failed to leave two of its stations at the scheduled hours of departure, raising fears that government might have been sold a dummy.

On the first instance on Wednesday night, a day after its launch by President Ian Khama, BR Express experienced ‘power problems’ that caused its failure to carry Gaborone bound passengers from the Francistown station. The train was scheduled to leave Francistown at 21h00 and arrive in Gaborone at 05h00 the following morning.  Passengers, both young and old could be seen loitering impatiently around the BR offices and wandering helplessly as management was not forthcoming with explanations for the delay. After waiting for hours, a number of passengers were already fuming with anger as they demanded explanations from the Botswana Railways (BR) management team. What made the situation even worse was that there were few seats for passengers as the waiting room could only contain a small number of passengers.

It was only after two and half hours (after the scheduled departure time) that the Chief Executive Officer of Botswana Railways, Dominic Ntwaagae in the company of his management team came and pleaded with the passengers to be patient as the train had experienced mechanical problems. Ntwaagae had been in Francistown during the day to launch the new passenger train.

“Ladies and gentleman, I really apologize for the delay as the train is experiencing technical problems and it was not our intention to put you through such misery. We have engaged technicians who are currently taking care of the situation,” said Ntwaagae.

On the second day, Thursday night, scores of passengers headed to the northern part of the country were also left stranded at the Gaborone train station after yet another mechanical problem forced another delay. Both government and Botswana Railways have described the two technical failures as “minor”.

The return of the passenger train follows a public outcry regarding its stoppage in 2009. In 2012, the Botswana Railways decided to review its turnaround strategy and re-aligned it to the current environment challenges. In 2013 the organization embarked on a study regarding the reinstatement of the passenger service and an agreement was made to return the service. The company engaged a South African government owned company, Transnet to manufacture 37 passenger coaches. 22 coaches have already been delivered and 15 are set to be delivered by May 2016. The coaches were acquired at R280 million (P150 million).

However, Botswana Railways is also embroiled in corruption allegations over the acquisition of the new coaches from Transnet in South Africa. BR has confirmed that the DCEC is currently carrying out investigations. During a press briefing by BR earlier on in Francistown last week, the Chief Executive Officer of Botswana Railways, Ntwaagae confirmed to the media that the DCEC is currently conducting investigations, but said he could not comment on anything regarding corruption allegations levelled at his organization. He said DCEC should be left to conduct and complete its investigations. He further rubbished allegations that the new passenger train coaches were not new but was refurbished.

“I can assure you that the coaches that we acquired from Transnet are new and they are some of the best in Africa in terms of design,” he said. 

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