With the proposed increase in rural or inter-town bus fares, more people are likely to flock to trains which will be much cheaper although at times there are some inconveniences.
Already more and more people are resorting to trains with the last National Railways of Zimbabwe annual report indicating that trains carried 3 126 000 passengers in 1989, a 15 percent increase over the previous year and a 115 percent increase on 1980 figures.
Ninety percent of the passengers use the economy class which for the Bulawayo-Harare route was $10 cheaper than the country bus fare. If the bus operators increase their fares in accordance with the latest figures approved, the train could be as much as $21 dollars cheaper. In other words a single bus trip will be the equivalent of a return trip by train.
This would obviously be good news for the NRZ as more people will prefer to use trains, but like in the case of urban buses, the problem the NRZ may face is that of keeping time.
It appears the passenger service is not accorded the respect that it deserves considering that most of those who use its first and second classes are tourists who rely on time tables supplied by the NRZ.
On August 3, for example, the Bulawayo-Harare train which was scheduled to leave at 9 pm, left at 2.45 am the next morning. Instead of being in Harare by 7am therefore it only reached Gweru at 8am and eventually snaked into Harare at 3 pm.
The problem was lack of adequate breaking pressure. The train back to Bulawayo left Harare on time at 9pm but it only arrived in Bulawayo at 12 noon.
What is particularly worrying about the trains is that no one bothers to explain, or apologise for, the delays. If one asks the staff one is rudely treated more like someone disturbing them or an intruder who has no right to know what is happening but should wait patiently until things are rectified.
This kind of attitude certainly drives customers away, especially those presses for the time. Perhaps, the passenger service is of a priority for the NRZ because it contributed less than 10 percent of the NRZ’s revenue with freight bringing in nearly 90 percent of the revenue hence a preference for goods trains to run uninterrupted.