Ivan Zhakata Herald Correspondent
Commuter passenger rail service is expected to start this afternoon with three routes at peak periods along the main east-west railway line through Harare as Zupco and National Railways of Zimbabwe introduce rail coaches to ease congestion in and out of the city centre to the eastern and western suburbs.
Similar services in Bulawayo are now being arranged.
The Harare trains are scheduled to start carrying passengers this afternoon and the fare will be the same as those charged by Zupco buses and kombis on the same routes, $60 a trip. Zupco is planning feeder services from the suburban stations that passengers can use on the same ticket as the train, so there will be no extra charge for the final leg going home or the initial leg going to work.
The move, falling under the Government priority for a decent, adequate and efficient public transport system arose after commuters complained about the waiting period at terminuses in the early morning and later afternoon when it became apparent Zupco and its franchise holders were taking too long to move commuters at these times.
The reopening of schools has also added to the demand.
People had resorted to mushikashika and other illegal transport but the recent blitz which sees passengers as well as operators fined had meant more people wanted legal public transport.
Friday afternoon saw serious congestion at city terminuses.
Besides the rail service, Zupco is now on a drive to recruit more franchise holders and has invited all owners of roadworthy buses and kombis to join the fleet and is working with the police to see how buses can be given priority at peak periods so as to speed-up turnaround times.
According to the initial rail timetables issued by Zupco, the three rail services will run from the city centre to Ruwa, Tynwald and Mufakose.
The Tynwald route sees the coaches leaving Harare railway station at 5:45am and arriving in Tynwald at 6:30am with stops at Lever Brothers, Lochinvar, Kambuzuma and Warren Park. It leaves Tynwald on the return trip at 6:45am and with the same stops arrives in the city centre at 7:30am.
The afternoon service on this route, with the same stops, is a train leaving the city centre at 5:25pm and arriving in Tynwald at 6:10pm with the return service leaving Tynwald at 7:10pm and arriving in the city centre at 7:50pm.
The other western service is the city-Mufakose route. The morning service leaves Harare railway station at 5:15am and after stopping at Lever Brothers, Lochinvar, Magandanga, Mufakose High and Torondo reaches Mufakose at 6:10am. The return journey leaves Mufakose at 6:25am and arrives in the city centre at 7:20am.
The afternoon service leaves the city at 5:30pm arriving in Mufakose at 6:15pm while the return trip leaves at 6:30pm and arrives in the city centre at 7:20pm.
The eastern route is the Ruwa-City service. This leaves Harare railway station at 5:30am with stops at Hillside and Mabvuku before arriving in Ruwa at 6:25am. It leaves that town at 6:40am and arrives in the city centre, with the same stops, at 7:35am.
The afternoon service leaves the city at 5:20pm, arriving Ruwa at 6:30pm and returns at 6:40pm arriving in the city at 7:35pm. The Mabvuku stop is 15 minutes after leaving Ruwa or before Ruwa, depending on direction.
Cabinet recently set up an inter-ministerial committee chaired by Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo to look into upgrading public transport and decongesting city roads.
It attributed congestion to the increased availability of fuel on the local market and increased economic activities. This meant more people were prepared to find the money to use private cars.
An adequate and affordable public transport system is used in most large cities to make commuting cheaper, easier and quicker.
Minister Moyo is expected to issue a statement on the partnership and on decongestion after Cabinet today.
Zupco chief executive officer Mr Evaristo Mudangwa said the passenger trains will be operating during peak hours in the morning and evening to ease congestion in the city centre.
“The advantage with this is that trains do not get affected by congestion and they can accommodate more people than buses and kombis,” he said.
NRZ acting public relations officer Mr Martin Banda said yesterday railway management was involved in working out the details and full details of the new services were expected to be communicated through Minister Moyo.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development Eng Theodius Chinyanga said Minister Moyo might issue a statement today after Cabinet.
In a statement yesterday, Zupco said the deal was being initiated in Harare and Bulawayo Metropolitan provinces and will spread across the country following the serious congestion at its terminuses on Friday last week.
“We have witnessed long queues on social media which occurred on Friday September 3, 2021. Zupco became aware of the increased demand that occurred that evening caused by increase in the hours of Zupco travelling public by those who normally would have taken other forms of transport especially mushikashika and a few who would have taken unlicensed and illegal kombis; parents and children who had their last minute shopping for their children in readiness for the opening of schools set for Monday September 6, 2021, and increased enforcement by law enforcement agencies led by the Zimbabwe Republic Police in order to eliminate all forms of illegal transport,” read the statement.
The company said it has deployed all the available fleet but it took longer than usual to clear the travelling public especially from central Harare.
In addition to the rise in demand from workers, there are now large numbers of children going to and from school who will rely on public transport. Zupco thus moved swiftly to see what could be done to upgrade services.
Besides the train services, Zupco is also working on priority for buses in peak hour traffic to allow faster turnarounds. Zupco said it will be working with the police and municipal police who will do their law enforcement duties and man congested areas such as roundabouts and non-working traffic lights throughout the metropolitan area of Harare and other cities.
Zupco further said it was making another concerted effort for those with roadworthy kombis and buses to come forward and register with them so that it can increase the fleet especially in Harare and Bulawayo.
“We also appeal to those using their own vehicles to observe traffic rules so that we don’t create unnecessary congestion and log jams. This will inhibit the faster turnaround time for buses and kombis,” Zupco said.
The company also appealed to the travelling public to be patient as they restore the normal public transport system in urban areas.