Before I narrate my train experience which I got yesterday, I have to tell you that it was not my first train ride. I boarded a train before back in 2008 when I was coming from Mutare. Back then, the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) had trains which plied 2 intercity routes, The Harare – Bulawayo, and Harare – Mutare routes.
The train had an option for one to book in a sleeper locomotive so that you can travel while sleeping as it travelled through the night. Most of the beds in the sleeper carriage were old and uncomfortable, but good enough to provide some comfort for one to sleep.
From then, i never got interested in trains again. But recently when government announced that it was merging NRZ and the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) in efforts to contain transport problems which are rife in Harare, I grew an interest to board one to find out if the trains are still good enough to ferry people considering how old they are as they were made in the 1960s.
When I arrived at the NRZ station in Harare, the site was a bit unpleasant to see. Old and Rusty locomotives is what welcomed me. What instantly comes to one’s mind is how on earth did the country neglect such great infrastructure? But that is a story for another day!
I was warmly welcomed by ZUPCO stuff members at the gate where you pay your train fares. How much is it from town to Mufakose? I asked. Its Rtgs$40! An ever smiling young lady replied. This is very affordable, I said to myself while entering the premises. I was expecting to see a few people inside considering how people ridiculed the introduction of trains to provide public transport on social media when it was announced. But Alas, thousands of people where making their way to board the train.
I asked one of the employees at NRZ if people were coming in their numbers everyday and he said, “My friend, wait until departure time and see how many people will be chasing it to get in,“
When I got inside the train, I noticed that the seats and the general outlook was that of an old set up. But what I liked is that it was very clean and fresh. I believe the NRZ stuff took their time to clean up the trains. The most interesting part was the environment inside.
Everyone seemed excited to be in the train. Young people were excited to feel the experience of riding a train which was probably their first time. Older people were excited by being spared from the hustle of waiting long queues for busses in ranks.
A gentleman who was seated on the same seat as mine called Tonderai said queuing for busses had become a hustle to him so he came to board the train to avoid that. “I stay in Mufakose. For me to board a bus, I would wait for 2 hours in the queue. But here you don’t wait in the queues, you just pay an get in. So I think this is a better option than waiting for buses, “ said Tonderai.
While having conversations with various people, a loud horn started beeping. An NRZ train worker got inside and started telling people all the safety precautions which passengers should follow while boarding the train.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to take off. Make sure you are seated when the train starts moving. Those who are standing must hold on to something to avoid falling because the train may shake you when it starts moving. I encourage people to avoid disembarking on a moving train because it is a dangerous thing to do,” the gentleman said.
From that moment, the train started moving. The ride was not so smooth as it was shaky. I assume the rail road is no longer smooth hence the shaking. The train also moved very slow, about 60km per hour. But as we were traveling, I realized that the train arrived earlier than most motorists because the latter face traffic congestion in the roads.
We made our first stop at an industrial site called lions where industrial workers were picked up. These people are the ones that are benefiting most from the service as they are picked and dropped at the doorstep of their work places.
We made 2 more stops in industrial areas before we arrived in Mufakose. At the stop, busses were waiting to shuttle people to their respective destinations on the same Rtgs$40 ticket.
The train made its final stop at Cabs area in Budiriro where everyone finally disembarked. It took us 25 minutes from town to Budiriro.
From this trip, I came to appreciate that a lot of people who live along the route have welcomed the introduction of the train services whole heartedly because it has made traveling much easier for them.
Some even enquired if the train was available on weekends because they no longer want to go through the hustle of struggling to board busses.
An NRZ official revealed that weekend trips would be introduced soon, subject to demand.
What I think should be improved however is the lighting inside. The trains have no lights so passengers travel in total darkness when the sun sets. NRZ workers gave us assurances that the lights would be fixed.
But I believe they need to be fixed as a matter of urgency to make boarding them pleasant.
The question in everyone’s mind at this moment is this: Is the Zupco train initiative good? My answer from the personal experience I had is this: the train is serving its purpose!
Thousands of dwellers in Mufakose and Budiriro can now travel without much hustles.
The train itself carries triple the amount of people carried by busses. That alone is very instrumental in decongesting urban areas. It is an undeniable fact that the trains are old and in need of attention. I believe with the beginning of this initiative, NRZ will start working on improving its locomotives and railway lines for the better. The lack of activity at NRZ might have been a major inspiration for neglect.
But with activity restored, more attention will be given towards resuscitating the national trains.