Saturday, May 28, 2022

Reintroduction of passenger train still a long way off

The Minister of Transport and Communications, Nonofo Molefhi, may have jumped the gun by announcing over radio that the country was all the more ready to re-introduce the passenger train service suspended four years ago.

In fact, the Botswana Railways (BR) is clueless as to how the reintroduction of the passenger train will be different from the previous service.

The BR has not even considered operating the service through a private-public sector partnership and says it is a “possible option that can be considered, depending on the benefit that can be accrued from exploiting that option”.

More than a month after the announcement by the Minister, BR’s Chief Executive Officer, Dominic Ntwaagae, can only say the reinstatement of the passenger train service will be determined by the completion of the business plan, which will also be based on the outcome of the study.

Ntwaagae told Sunday Standard that BR has taken into consideration the requests of the nation to have the passenger train service reinstated. “We do understand that the train may not only alleviate transport shortage but will also be a means of a safe and reliable transport,” he said, highlighting that the decision to suspend the passenger train was taken in 2008, which was due to the fact that coaches were not in good condition and, therefore, posed a safety risk.

Ntwaagae added that it was also coupled with the fact that the passenger train was not profitable.
“Reintroducing the service through a private-public sector partnership is a possible option that can be considered, depending on the benefit that can be accrued from exploiting the option,” said Ntwaagae.

He further said new services to be introduced will depend on the outcome of the business plan, which he said is supposed to address all issues and recommend the best option.

Ntwaagae revealed that the reintroduction of the passenger train will require the procurement of the new coaches.

He said that the passenger train was an unprofitable venture and was mainly financed by the freight business.

“There were no financial gains accruing to Botswana Railways for offering the service,” he said.
He further pointed out that for BR to be able to economically provide a cost effective, efficient and safe transport, that can only be achieved by providing a reliable and predictable service at the cost recovery levels. He added that the quality of service would have to be looked into to ensure that unit cost of production through optimum utilization and save use of equipment is achieved.

“A business plan that will inform the reinstatement of the passenger train is still being done,” he stated.

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