CHAMBO NG’UNI, Kabwe
LACK of investment in the railways in past years has left the sector limping with old and inadequate rolling stock.
The rolling stock has also deteriorated because of lack of maintenance, a development which has negatively affected operations of Zambia Railways Limited (ZRL).
As Government wants to revitalise and transform ZRL into a viable, competitive, reliable and profitable company, there is need for meaningful investment in acquiring modern rolling stock while maintaining the old fleet.
If ZRL is to realise its vision of becoming a fully-fledged logistic provider, there is need for the company to have adequate rolling stock.
This is why the company has partnered with SMH RAIL of Malaysia to remanufacture 10 old locomotives at a cost of US$25 million.
The project started in 2015 and three locomotives each with the capacity of 2,150 horse power and tonnage volume of 1,200 (which is equivalent to 20 fully loaded wagons) have been re-manufactured at the ZRL workshop in Kabwe.
The fourth locomotive, according to SMH RAIL chairman and managing director Narayanau Kuppusany, is in the final stage of completion.
“We are looking forward to completing the remaining six locomotives at the earliest [possible time] which will help improve Zambia Railways’ capacity and boost its revenue,” Mr Kuppusany said.
He said this in a speech read on his behalf by Raden Van Jaarsveld, the business development director for SMH RAIL South Africa, during the commissioning of the locomotives in Kabwe recently.
All the 10 locomotives will be equipped with digital-microprocessors and remote GPS monitoring control system.
This system allows for the monitoring of locomotives’ performance through GPS from any computer gadgets, including smartphones, and also allows trouble-shooting from any remote location.
Mr Kuppusany said 30 to 40 percent of ZRL’s budget for investment in rolling stock will be saved through the re-manufacturing of locomotives.
He said the re-assembling of locomotives is important in modernisation of rail infrastructure.
“We are confident that with the continuing support and commitment from the Zambian government, we would be able to build a stronger relationship in our joint effort to modernise Zambia’s railway operations,” Mr Kuppusany added.
The re-built locomotives will guarantee ZRL of reliable trains for the haulage of goods and also for the transportation of passengers.
“Zambia Railways opted for the re-manufacturing option as a way of equipment renewal,” ZRL chief executive officer Christopher Musonda said.
“The re-manufactured locomotives are as good as new in all respects except for the lowered cost which is about 50 percent of the new locomotive.”
Mr Musonda is, however, concerned that the project was not moving at the expected pace because of limited financing.
ZRL is also working with contiguous railway administrations to build its capacity for the haulage of heavy cargo following the new law that compels transporters of heavy cargo to use rail.
The statutory instrument (SI) by the ministry of Transport and Communications to compel transporters of heavy goods to transport 30 percent of their cargo by rail came into effect last month.
ZRL is working with member states of the Southern African Railways Association (SARA) which have offered to provide rolling stock and also build its capacity to handle bulky and heavy cargo.
In this vein, the railway company signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Transnet SOC on October 12, 2017 during the South Africa and Zambia Joint Commission of Cooperation (JCC) in that country.
President Edgar Lungu and former South African President Jacob Zuma witnessed the signing of the MoU.
According to the terms of the MoU, Transnet SOC Limited will carry out the revitalisation of ZRL through capacity building, provision of rolling stock and investment in the repairs of railway infrastructure.
The collaboration includes the leasing of rolling stock (locomotives and wagons) with the option of buying as well as critical repairs of the railway truck among others.
The deployment of the equipment under the arrangement was expected to start within the first quarter of 2018
Further, ZRL will supplement its fleet of locomotives with hired ones from other rail companies in the region like Botswana Railway.
“All these efforts demonstrate our desire, capacity and determination to deliver a quality service to our customers in Zambia and the region,” Mr Musonda said.
Minister of Transport and Communications Brian Mushimba says the re-manufacturing of locomotives will boost ZRL’s rolling stock and revitalise its operations.
“With a total of 10 locomotives under this project, Zambia Railways will be able to increase their hauling capacity by an extra one million tonnes per year,” Mr Mushimba said.
The minister noted that the lack of investment in the railway sector has culminated into insufficient rolling stock, limited track capacity and consequently reduced revenue for the railway company.
Mr Mushimba signed SI number seven of 2018 on January 26, 2018, to compel transporters to ship 30 percent of their heavy and bulky cargo by rail.
Mr Mushimba underscored that the SI is part of the broader programme by Government to optimise the transport sector and reduce the cost of doing business.
The SI is also expected to address the imbalance between rail and road transport market-share by optimising the utilisation of all transportation systems in the logistic chain.
Therefore, the move by ZRL to refurbish its locomotives is meant to build the firm’s haulage capacity in view of stakeholder concerns that it lacks capacity to meet the hauling needs of transporters.
“Through the implementation of the SI, the country will benefit by allowing the railway sector to play its role in the economy, contribute to prolonging the life of our roads, reduce road carnage levels as well as reduce air pollution,” Mr Mushimba explained.
ZRL board chairman Lubinda Linyama said the SI demands that the railway sub-sector needs to increase its capacity to desirable levels.
Mr Linyama said in a speech read by ZRL board member Robert Mutonga that the national railway company therefore needs to have adequate and efficient rolling stock.
He said the re-building of three locomotives is an indication of the railway company’s determination to build its capacity to meet stakeholder needs.
“In addition to this project, we are in discussion with a number of potential suppliers of rolling stock with the option of either hiring or outright purchase depending on the terms,” Mr Linyama said.
He said it is important to explore various investment opportunities and strategies aimed at revamping ZRL and make it a complete logistic provider.
“The launch of the three refurbished locomotives is one of the answers to the question of rolling stock capacity raised by some of our customers,” he said.
As things stand, ZRL needs to invest heavily in rolling stock and build its capacity to meet clients’ needs as expected.
CHAMBO NG’UNI, Kabwe