Mmegi Online :: Riding the BR Express
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Riding the BR Express

After President Ian Khama launched the revamped, state-of-the-art passenger train on Tuesday in the historic town of Lobatse, Mmegi Correspondent, TUMELO MOUWANE was among the fortunate members of public who secured a seat on the BR Expressí inaugural run
By Tumelo Mouwane Thu 24 Mar 2016, 11:19 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Riding the BR Express








I was caught in a quandary. I had the pressure of typing and submitting my story on the BR Express’ launch before the deadline elapsed, which meant typing while on the inaugural ride to Gaborone.  However, I also did not want to miss the various landscapes across the southern part of the country, long unseen by ordinary Batswana due to the nine-year absence of the passenger rail service.

I chose the First Class sitter coach and a cool breeze of air from a top-notch air-conditioning system welcomed me. This section of the BR Express was the best, especially for someone who was also busy on deadline as I was.  Equipped with the modern furniture, the boardroom is designed to accommodate meetings and presentations on the go. Whilst busy typing my story in the boardroom, my first experience of the train was somewhat soured by water dripping from the train’s rooftop. The dripping became worse and turned into a full on flow, attracting the attention of the train’s waitress. Together with a fellow journalist also busy on a story, we were forced to transfer to other coaches. 

Despite that single incident, Botswana Railways left smiles on the faces of hundreds of people who thronged the railway in Lobatse to witness the return of the passenger train.

Hundreds of people in the town ditched their work momentarily to witness the train’s return, and it did not disappoint as the gleaming, new engine and carriages swung round into view with the BOT50 logo proudly emblazoned on the sides.

After departing from Lobatse at 12:04 pm, the BR Express’ first stop was the historic Lobatse train station, where hundreds of the town’s residents were gathered. The new train’s features include plasma screen televisions across all the coaches, a bar, sleeper coaches, WIFI, high standard public address audio systems and ablutions and fully functioning air-conditioning. 

The spacious train can accommodate 64 passengers in one coach and on Wednesday, the 22 coaches thus far delivered by the South African manufacturer, Transnet, start operating between Lobatse and Francistown.

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Express will operate the overnight service during normal days and will only operate during the day over holidays, making my inaugural trip even more special as it took place during the day. From Wednesday, the train will leave Lobatse at 7.10pm and arrive in Francistown the following day at 6.11am. On the return trip, the BR Express will leave Francistown at 9pm and arrive in Gaborone at 7.31am the following day.

The train has been classified into Standard Class, which does not have facilities like the buffet, Business Class sitter, which is the centre of all facilities, and First Class, which has extraordinary features like the boardroom, presentation equipment and sleeper coaches.

As we arrived in Gaborone, the BR Express brought the capital city to a standstill as thousands thronged Gaborone Train Station to welcome the train.

The hundreds in Lobatse and the thousands in Gaborone bore testament to Khama’s words to the effect that high public demand had been centremost in the decision to reintroduce the passenger rail service. “Government accepted recommendations from a study commissioned by Botswana Railways, through the Ministry of Transport and Communications, which showed high public demand for the train to be brought back,” he said.

“This train will not only provide a greater mobility of our citizens, but will also help the country in its efforts to strengthen and stimulate its economy.“ More importantly, the re-instatement of the passenger train has created economic opportunities for most Batswana.”

These opportunities include opportunities for catering services, cleaning services, sanitation services and security services, which have all been outsourced. For her part, Lobatse town Mayor, Malebogo Kruger expected the train’s reintroduction to stimulate economic activity in the country’s oldest town. “I am very overwhelmed by the reinstatement of the BR Express and I am expecting the train to transform the economy of Lobatse,” she said.

From Lobatse, to Gaborone to the towns in the Central District and all the way to Francistown, the excitement has reached fever pitch and Batswana are eager to test the BR Express.

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