On Wednesday, the Botswana Railway’s newly introduced passenger train; dubbed BR Express failed to make a return trip from Francistown to Lobatse, on its second day back in the rail. This was really a disappointment and embarrassment, atleast to the citizenry of this country. Although it is still early to state for a fact that maybe the miscarriage was confirming recent media report regarding the train, the incident exposed quite a few things about us as a nation.
While it may be tempting for some sectors of our society to label those who are expressing their disappointments as “negative”, the truth of the matter is that the Wednesday miscarriage was or is not the only thing that has exposed our “short term thinking disease” as a nation.
When the Blue Train, as it was called then was stopped close to ten years ago, we were given all sorts of excuses why it was time to derail it. High operational costs were key amongst those reasons. But here we are again, bringing back the same train at an almost similar price. Yes, the costs of living or rather the costs of operations have since risen so it highly likely that the then 28 pula could be the 88 pula now. Anyway that’s subject to debate but in short what we are saying here is that very soon we might have the operators of the train knocking at the minister’s office begging for bailout. The truth of the matter is that the transport industry in the country has since changed since then. We wonder if the BR Express operators took this into consideration. For instance, back then, our people from as far as Maun used to take bus to Francistown, then later a night train from there to Gaborone but the coming of late bus services that run directly between Maun and Gaborone has made such people to abandon the long Maun-Francistown-Gaborone route. In actual fact this long stopped when the train also stopped several years ago.
It costs just below 200 pula (10hours) to travel to Maun from Gaborone with the new late night buses but it will costs almost the same money to travel buy BR Express for a day and half. This would not make an economic sense to anyone thus a lot of people are likely to settle for the former. Even for Francistown ÔÇô Gaborone, the train service costs a standard price of about 88 pula (which is a promotional price) while by bus its around 100 pula. The monetary difference here is 12 pula but the huge difference becomes hours of travel. We speak of 8 hours plus by BR Express and around 5 hours by bus. Economically its better one settles for the former again. So if at all BR Express is going to transport a few people each night, what then makes its board and executive think that it will operate efficiently? Why do they think this time around the cost of operation will be low? Mind you we are only talking about a small fraction of the operating costs here. With reports that the operator has since outsourced services such as cleaning, security and internet, there is high likelihood that the costs of operating this passenger train is even higher than back then.
Given the scale of the problems we face in our country, it’s time that we began thinking in centuries-long cycles instead of five-year political terms. As it stands part of the problem is that the quickening pace of, well, just about everything is deemed a benefit to the current government.
So if this train or should we say “new train” will not fast track commutation, facilitate trade more especially for the SMEs, what on earth are we bringing it back for?
Some of people have gone further to express their displeasure on the look; they suspect old wagons have been repainted and brought back to the rail. That we shall find out soon. For now the main issue is why was the train brought back? It is not all about looks but squarely on efficiency. Can we transport many of our people, to as many as destinations along the railway line as quick as we could? The answear is no. What was wrong with say, introducing a quicker train between Lobatse and Gaborone and another one between Gaborone and Mahalapye? Would that have not helped to even decongest the heavily loaded A1 road? How many of our people come from Boatle, Ramotswa, Otse and even Lobatse who rent out in Gaborone but could be staying back in their villages/town and commuting into the city each morning through a faster and safer mode of transport ÔÇô train?
And at the same time, the Wednesday miscarriage should really get us worried. How on earth do we spend so many millions of tax payers’ money on a train only for it to fail and embarrass us so much on its second day of running? We hope this is not fall into the list of the “failed” government projects. In any case, if it is, we expect the new presidential inspectorate team led by former Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe to start their job as soon as today.
For those who missed it, Kedikilwe and other former cabinet ministers, amongst them Johnnie Swartz, Peter Siele, Gaotlhatse Mathabaphiri have been brought back to public service. His Excellency, President Dr Ian Khama announced in early February that the team will be responsible for government projects implementation. The BR Express projects or rather scandal is one that Kedikilwe and his company cannot afford to turn a blind eye on.
The #Bottomline here is that bringing back the passenger train with almost same service (more especially travel times) and prices which are almost equal to those offered by buses is uncalled for. It is a waste of tax payer’s money and an indication of how we lack entrepreneurial spirit. No entrepreneur list efficiency at the bottom of his priorities.