The Minister of Transport and Communications, Tshenolo Mabeo last week expressed optimism that government will meet the set deadline for the return of the Botswana Railways (BR) passenger train, popularly known as the Blue Train.
Briefing the press during a media tour of the Gaborone train station last week, Mabeo said that the 37 coach passenger train will arrive in Botswana early March and start operations at the end of the same month, plying the Gaborone-Francistown route at night. He further revealed that six major train stations in Lobatse, Gaborone, Mahalapye, Palapye, Serule and Francistown are currently under refurbishments to prepare for the project take-off.
“There have been a few delays which could result in the train starting its operations before renovation of some stations is complete,” said Mabeo.
However, he maintained that supporting infrastructure such as the passenger ticket system and fully equipped waiting rooms have to be put in place as a matter of urgency. He further emphasized that the 37 newly purchased state of the art coaches are due to arrive from South Africa.
“The train will also help reduce costs normally associated with long travel as passengers will not need to pay lodging fees to wait for morning, but can straightway connect through a night train. The modernised train will be more comfortable and its standards have greatly improved from the Blue Train,” said Mabeo.
Government had budgeted P280 million for the passenger train, and Mabeo revealed that the project is still within budget and on time.
“I have been getting regular updates and I am satisfied with the way the project is progressing,” he said.
Refurbishing of the Gaborone station is currently at foundation level. The refurbished station will also have an upper deck for business class passengers. Mabeo said the train might start operating while other stations are still being refurbished; adding that the passenger trains will ease traffic by providing an alternative mode of transport.
Botswana Railways terminated its passenger train in 2009 following a string of operational losses amounting to about P30 million per annum; as well as inability to service the locomotives and coaches, which put passengers’ lives at risk.
Meanwhile Botswana Railways has also been tasked with the role of exploring the rail link with Zimbabwe, Namibia and Mozambique after completion of the Kazungula Bridge, which will see Botswana connecting with African countries to the north. This is expected to open alternative trading routes for Botswana and neighbouring countries, as more goods will be transported up north of the Zambezi River.