The Zambia Railways Limited – ZRL passenger train operations remain suspended until further notice. ZRL public relations head, Caristo Chitamfya in an exclusive interview with the Zambian Business Times – ZBT confirmed that “the passenger service operations remain suspended till further notice as the railway company is monitoring the Corona virus situation.
Chitamfya however stated that freight services and the cargo train is still running. He stated that for the passenger services to resume operations, the company will have to get guidance and clearance from from the Ministry of Health.
The Zambia Railways passenger train suspended all services on 6 April 2020 in consultation with the Ministry of Transport and Communication as well as the Ministry of Health.
Zambia Railways Limited, apart from Tazara is the only company that provides the lowest cost mode of transport in Zambia and its suspended passenger services has affected many people who especially in rural and Peru-urban areas who solely rely on travelling with the railway company on cost consideration.
ZRL operates ordinary trains, namely the Zambezi and Kafue trains, which run between Livingstone and Kitwe. The travel classes offered on the ordinary trains are business, sleeper, standard and economy classes.
It also has what is referred to as mixed trains, such as the Mulobezi mixed train which operates between Livingstone and Mulobezi. The train moves both passengers and livestock. The other is the parcels service, where the railway company Zambia provides a service for conveyancing of parcels or unaccompanied luggage.
ZRL was privately held from 2003 to 2012 and was repossessed by government in September 2012 with the aim of making the rail firm the main carrier of bulk cargo and passengers. There has been some progress on bulk cargo service but revamping of the passenger service has little to write home about as the service remains erratic with speed remaining one of the challenges.
In May 2019, ZRL confirmed that it had invested about US$15 in million to procure state of the art signal and communication equipment as derailment of locomotives was the biggest challenge that the company faced in the past, it remains to be seen if this company will be able to revamp its operations and become profitable.
The company has of late concentrated its efforts on its estate business segment, calling on removal and demolition of buildings along the railway line when its core mandate is to revamp the passenger and freight train services.
Analyst argue that if the Railways lines were busy, do you think that people can even start constructing near the lines? Trains have strong vibrations when traveling at the right speeds which in itself can deter people from building near them. There is need to see the passenger and freight services become more competitive and offer a low cost option for freighting.