In March 1998, a team from Hifab International AB of Sweden, in association with DE-Consult of Germany, began a 30-month contract to manage and restructure Zambia Railways Ltd on behalf of the Swedish International Development Agency. The management team found it was running a railway in far worse condition than it had been led to believe. Infrastructure and rolling stock was in appalling condition after many years of deferred maintenance. In the preceding 10 years, annual freight traffic had fallen from over 4 million tonnes to just 1·4 million.
The main tasks identified were to:
l reverse the decline in freight;
l improve accountability;
l cut staff from 5800 to 2000;
l tackle the maintenance backlog;
l seek external funding for downsizing and ’strategic rehabilitation’;
l operate a balanced budget.
ZRL has reduced its operational workforce by 2450 without any disputes, thanks largely to a policy of transparency with the trade union.
ZRL Managing Director Robert Crawford believes that customer care will help. By reorganising and improving customer contacts, ZRL has reversed the decline and is budgeting for 1·8 million tonnes this year.
He bemoans the inequity of road competition, especially the road fund duty on railway diesel fuel, but accepts that, in the long run, freight rates for all modes will come down.
Passenger numbers have continued to decline because of poor reliability and abysmal timekeeping resulting from the condition of track and locomotives. A proposal to discontinue passenger services was rejected by the ZRL board, although the Lusaka commuter service operated by Njanji Commuter Services Ltd, for which ZRL provided rolling stock and management, has ceased to operate.
With ZRL’s locos averaging less than 10000 km between failures, several derailments a week, and signalling that barely functions, Crawford believes that borrowing to fund rehabilitation could make commercial sense.
Zambia is openly embracing the principle of privatisation and has taken steps to liberalise its economy to attract investment. A privatisation study was undertaken last year by CPCS Transcom, with World Bank funding, and the aim is to complete negotiations and have a Memorandum of Understanding signed by December 31. Seven groups have expressed serious interest.
Tazara seeks to penetrate central Africa
TANZANIA-ZAMBIA Railway Authority has adopted a five-year corporate plan designed to give it a more secure future. Strategies include the introduction of modern management concepts and information systems, while much emphasis will go on higher productivity thanks to a reduction in the labour force from 5000 to 3000 by 2002-03.
In particular, Tazara aims to exploit the markets in Southern Africa, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo to generate 700000 tonnes of freight in 1998-99, rising to 850000 tonnes by 2002-03.
Perhaps uniquely among the railways of Southern Africa, Tazara also sees considerable potential for passenger services. By improving facilities for local and tourist markets, it plans to increase traffic from 1·6 million in 1998-99 to 2 million in 2002-03.
The poor condition of track and decayed bridge sleepers has forced Tazara to impose a 50 km/h speed restriction over the 180 km between Msolwa and Mlimba. The next 264 km, between Mlimba and Uchindile, has always been susceptible to landslides, but funding for remedial work is not available. Both Zambia and Tanzania are considering whether Tazara can be privatised.
Major investment projects in progress include a US$30m project to replace jointed track with CWR over a 657 km stretch to reduce maintenance costs and permit higher speeds. Begun in 1994, with Austrian funding, this project is more than 70% complete. A US$3m concrete sleeper plant under construction at Kongolo in Tanzania is expected to open by July 2000.
Other schemes totalling US$18m are in hand. Availability of main line locos is to be improved and the wagon fleet will be increased from 1100 to 2000. Workshop capacity will be raised, allowing repairs on passenger coaches to increase the number in service from 84 to 123.
Chinese government funding worth US$1·5m will rehabilitate communication systems and US$500000 will finance digital microwave radio on the entire route by 2000-01. Staff training will absorb another US$4m.
La restructuration inversera la courbe du déclin
Beaucoup de réseaux ferroviaires africains s’intéressent à la mise en concession ou à une autre forme de restructuration, afin d’inverser le désastreux déclin du trafic causé trop souvent par la négligence et une maintenance toujours remise au lendemain. Les difficultés sérieuses doivent être combattues, mais une idée fait son chemin: la participation du secteur privé dans le management et l’exploitation aidera au redressement d’une activité ferroviaire déficitaire. Des signes montrent que les donateurs cesseront d’octroyer des fonds pour résoudre les crises ponctuelles; à l’inverse, ils commencent à insister sur le fait que l’argent est plut