State owned rail company National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) has stopped using electric trains due to vandalism and theft of the railway equipment.
NRZ Public Relations manager Fanuel Masikati told a local independent weekly newspaper that they had suspended the electric locomotives as a result of extensive vandalism of their equipment.
“There is extensive damage of railway equipment – people are stealing electric cables. Because of this, we have stopped using all electric locomotives,” said Masikati.
Masikati said that apart from the massive vandalism of the overhead cables, the thieves were also targeting the poles supporting the wires as well as the machines, which are used for control.
This is straining NRZ, which is the backbone of the country’s transport sector, as it is the most cost-effective mode when it is fully operational.
“Replacing the vandalised infrastructure would cost an estimated US$10 million,” Masikati said.
He said a number of industries, especially those that transport heavy or voluminous materials, are directly affected by the vandalism of NRZ equipment.
Agriculture, for example, relies heavily on railway transport for transportation of inputs such as seed and fertilisers because road transport costs three times more.
Profit margins in the agricultural sector are so narrow that farmers would prefer using rail because it is the cheapest mode of transport, and its infrastructure needs to be replaced to serve the nation.
However, before the country looks at replacing the vandalised infrastructure, NRZ and other companies, which have been hit by vandalism should put in place measures to eliminate cases of cable theft.
“We need to address the issue of theft and vandalism before we replace the equipment because once someone is used to vandalism, then they would do the same to the installed wires,” Masikati said.
One of the major problems is that there is a ready market for the wires in Zimbabwe and in the region.
Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) says the vandalised equipment was usually used by the informal sector with “some contraband being targeted for the export market”.
One way of curbing cable theft is to heavily guard the infrastructure; this could be done by employing either the private security guards or the security forces. An increase in security could deter cable thieves who have become daring to the extent of vandalising electrical cables within the high-density areas of Harare.
The other option is to have deterrent sentences for vandalising, buying or selling copper cables.