Termination of Botswana Railways' Passenger Service
Press Statement Deliverd by Lewis Malikongwa, Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Works and Transport
27 February 2009
Members of the media fraternity;
- Distinguished Guests;
- Ladies and Gentlemen:
We would like to thank you for having responded to our call at such short notice.
As reported by the Minister of Works and Transport, Honourable Minister Johnnie Swartz, at the Committee of Supply on Wednesday, February 25th 2009, the passenger service of Botswana Railways will be suspended until further review. The suspension of the service will take effect on Wednesday, April 1st 2009.
Reaching such a decision has been a lengthy process which has involved numerous consultations between Botswana Railways’ Management and Government.
In taking into consideration the historical perspective of Botswana Railways’ passenger service, it is important to know that when Botswana Railways was established, it was equipped to run two passenger trains per day in either direction (north to south and south to north). This service was resourced with a fleet of 46 air conditioned coaches which were introduced into the market between 1991 and 1993.
According to the planned maintenance program of the fleet, the coaches were to be overhauled at 500,000 km or every 5 years, which ever was to occur first. The overhaul is ideally meant to address issues arising out of wear and tear and safety critical components to ensure that the coaches are in good running order. By so doing, the operators will be guaranteed of availability, reliability and safety of the fleet. To date, ladies and gentlemen, on average, the passenger coaches of Botswana Railways have never been overhauled over the past 15 years. Due to the lack of overhaul, the passenger service of Botswana Railways is running at a risk of having accidents and poses problems in terms of predictability in the short term and long term sustainability of the service.
Much as the coaches are not in good working order and presenting a safety hazard, the passenger service of Botswana Railways accounts for less than 10 % of BR’s operating revenues and have consistently made losses of P30 million per annum. Such losses have continuously been offset and in a way subsidized by the Botswana Railways freight business.
Notwithstanding, the issue of sustainability of rail passenger services has been extensively discussed across the globe and policies have been established that generally suggest that rail passenger services cannot operate commercially without any subsidization from government, the notion being that they are “run” on behalf of government for social and economic reasons rather than for commercial reasons. A typical scenario is our neighbouring railway in South Africa; Transnet Freight Rail (formerly Spoornet) has handed over the operations of passenger service to the local authorities to run it and subsidize it. This scenario has proved to work quite well to work for the railway operator.
With the development challenges that the country is faced with, it might not be prudent for us to adopt a model of subsidy for rail passenger service at this stage. Furthermore, in light of the current economic conditions, Government’s focus on more critical development initiatives is essential.
It should be noted that while a decision to suspend BR’s passenger service was being made, the fact that road transport on the public transport side has been developing at a rather pleasant rate was taken into cognizance. We further note that, the suspension of the rail passenger service will create a service gap which will still need to be filled and as such we are banking on the road oriented public transport operators to seize the opportunity and make good the desires of our current rail customers.
Ladies and gentlemen, government have found it prudent to terminate the passenger service of Botswana Railways in view of the safety risks posed by the current operation, and line with the desires of Botswana Railways’ Turn-around Strategy to ensure that the organization continues to be a sustainable entity.
Thank you for your time.