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Audience doubts Chirwa’s targets for Zambia Railways

Zambia Railways Limited chief executive  on Thursday night at the New Government Complex in Lusaka

Zambia Railways Limited chief executive on Thursday night at the New Government Complex in Lusaka

Some members of the audience that attended the Akapelwa Public Lecture by Professor Clive Chirwa’s felt his ambitious targets for Zambia Railways was not achievable.

They said Prof Chirwa’s self-appointed three and half year timeline for turning around the ailing railway sector is over ambitious and unachievable.

Some asked Prof Chirwa to be realistic and revise his targets for the reconstruction and modernisation of the railway sector in Zambia.

Prof Chirwa, a world renowned expert of Automotive and Aerospace structures-Crashworthiness was delivering this year’s Akapelwa lecture on Thursday night at the New Government Complex in Lusaka organised by the Engineering Institution of Zambia.

In his presentation, Prof Chirwa said he required US$ 1.5 billion to completely modernize Zambia’s railway transport system.

He showed computer images of his new designs for the rail tracks, electric powered trains and modern train platforms and later played a simulation video of his newly designed modern underground Lusaka train station which wowed the audience.

Prof Chirwa said he would construct a new double rail track from Chingola to Livingstone covering 921 KM in three years which will run side by side with the existing line which will also be rehabilitated.

He said the new Zambia Railways proposed structure will have five units that will run independently to make it commercially viable and self-sustaining.

“You cannot say we will use those electric trains when ZESCO is load shedding every day, what you are suggesting is that the whole country should be in the dark so that your trains could run,”

“With the US$ 1.5 billion, we should be able to create a million jobs. We will invest heavily in research and development and we have been talking to the Vice Chancellor at CBU that we set up an Institute of Railway Studies so that our staff and prospective staff could be trained there in many aspects of railway management.”

He said the new Zambia Railways is targeting to move freight volumes of around 2 million tons per annum mostly from the copper mines once the rail tracks have been reconstructed.

But some members of the audience comprising mainly professionals from fields such as Accountancy, Engineering, Economics and Academia submitted that Prof Chirwa’s vision for Zambia Railways was good but impossible to attain.

Some said Prof Chirwa was not being realistic by designing and recommending the use of electric powered high speed trains when Zambia is facing a critical power deficit.

“You cannot say we will use those electric trains when ZESCO is load shedding every day, what you are suggesting is that the whole country should be in the dark so that your trains could run,” commented one member of the audience during a question and answer session.

But Prof Chirwa said his team and the board is considering the options of engaging Lunsefwa Power Company for the supply of power or the constructing of a solar farm to power the new trains.

Explaining the simulations of the model, Prof. Chirwa said ZRL would establish electric powered trains to run on the rail track that will be rehabilitated.

He said having electric trains would be cheaper than using coal to move the machines.

The modules have about 100 kilometres each and they include Mayoba 105km, Choma 112km, Monze 101km, Naluama 101km, Chisamba 109km, Luanshima 103km, Kafulafuta 104 km, Mabote 94 km, and Chingola 92 km.

He explained that the company was already considering three ways of doing it.

Prof. Chirwa said the first way would be to have a solar panel while the second one is to generate power from Lusemfwa and the third option was partnership with ZESCO whom he said had pledged to support the reconstruction.

He further highlighted nine modules to categorise development of the second 921 kilometre railway line that will be built from Chingola to Livingstone at a cost of US$120 million.

The modules have about 100 kilometres each and they include Mayoba 105km, Choma 112km, Monze 101km, Naluama 101km, Chisamba 109km, Luanshima 103km, Kafulafuta 104 km, Mabote 94 km, and Chingola 92 km.

He stated that ZRL’s core business model would be to build partnerships with businesses that are centered on five divisions namelyfreight, passenger, inter-mine, engineering design and infrastructure commercial.

Prof. Chirwa said these five areas will give ZRL a platform to become not only the country’s major employer with over 10, 000 jobs and also make it one of the biggest contributors to the national economy.

“This project will have to go through many regulatory impediments which we ourselves as North West Railway have faced. For you to get a bridge over the Kafue River, you will need your environmental impact report approved by ZEMA which can take up to two years.”

On financing, Professor Mwenda from UNZA School of Engineering asked Prof Chirwa to revise upwards his US$ 1.5 billion estimation for the project because it was unrealistically too low.

Another member of the audience queried Prof Chirwa on how he will raise the required financing for the project especially that government has so far only released US$ 120 million for revamping the railway sector.

In his response, Prof Chirwa explained that 48% of Zambia Railways shares will be floated on the stock exchange as a way of raising additional financing adding that other funding options are being considered.

North West Railway Chairman and Former Vice President Enoch Kavindele who was also part of the audience said Prof Chirwa will not achieve anything in the three years he has set for himself.

“This project will have to go through many regulatory impediments which we ourselves as North West Railway have faced. For you to get a bridge over the Kafue River, you will need your environmental impact report approved by ZEMA which can take up to two years.”

“You cannot even blame ZEMA because they are overwhelmed with work. Their Kitwe office for instance only has seven officers. I wish you well Clive, I want you to succeed but it’s a huge challenge,” Mr. Kavindele said.

Others advised Prof Chirwa to have a regional approach to the project and start consulting other railway operators in neighbouring countries because cargo and passengers would need to transit from one country to another.

“You cannot even blame ZEMA because they are overwhelmed with work. Their Kitwe office for instance only has seven officers. I wish you well Clive, I want you to succeed but it’s a huge challenge,” Mr. Kavindele said.

Some asked Prof Chirwa to bear in mind that public procurement procedures are long and tedious and that might frustrate his timeframe for the project.

Others raised concern over the proposed fencing of the rail tracks especially that some people have legally and illegally built structures close to the rail tracks.

Prof Chirwa explained that government has assured him that compensation and eviction of the people is being considered and that there should be no structure within 50 meters of the rail track from Chingola to Livingstone.

President Michael Sata appointed Prof Chirwa as Chief Executive Officer of Zambia on November 15 2012 after cancelling the concession agreement with the Railway Systems of Zambia.

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