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The New Train - Meeting a Need. But Which Need?

Come to the Voice (April 8) to learn that Botswana Railways management is making claims, to my astonishment, about its aggressive marketing of the new Express Blue train. I am a lesser but nevertheless genuine train nut and have been desperate to get proper information about this train.

All I could find was its schedule, its charges, that it has three classes, and a buffet and that’s about it. Call that aggressive marketing if you wish, but there is so  much more that competent marketing people should wish to make known.

For a start, can any of us buy a ticket on the train, is the buffet available to all three classes of passenger,  what are the differences in seating between the three classes and is  standing allowed? But then also learn that Botswana Railways anticipates an annual 15% increase in its revenues as a result of the new Blue Train service. I am not at all sure that this information has any real meaning.

Is it supposed to indicate that the train will be making a profit – if so, based on what? Are there hard facts which would have convinced BR and the government that its re-emergence would be a viable undertaking? Given that it was such a financial disaster in the past, it is disconcerting that BR should now be referring to its previous patronage. With whatever objectives it had in mind when it was first introduced, the old blue train became, either by choice or by accident, a low priced mass market transport facility. What today can be the relevance of its previous patronage?  The commonplace explanation that the train had to be dumped because the passenger coaches had become dangerous does no more than illustrate the incredible incompetence of all who were then involved.

From one end of the then passenger service to the other, BR’s management (and Board) was massively incompetent and culpable. But action was only deemed to be unavoidable, I believe, when it was realised that the blue train had become an imminent, potential death trap. Mercifully the government over rode BR’s Management which was presumably all set on doing nothing, and stepped in before there was an horrific disaster.  The problem now is that the government at that time either omitted to carry out a comprehensive investigation into this dismaying situation or, if it did do so, failed to make its conclusions public.

It follows that the general public today may well wonder if the government/BR may have ventured into this new, massively expensive venture for reasons that have been dictated more by political than financial considerations? Where are

the projected figures which have led to such financial optimism? What were the projections which convinced BR/ the government that it could compete with the road transport buses?  And for whom and for what specific market, is this new service being provided?  If crucially important information was lacking then we may wonder about other information that is lacking today.  Indeed, the point has been previously made by many, not least myself, that the  government does a very poor job in reporting progress on its more important construction projects. BDP members express their bafflement about peoples’ lack of appreciation for the efforts that the government makes but are seemingly unaware how little the government does to keep us all informed.

 Take the new crossing over the river at Odi which has now replaced the two culvert type bridges. For a year there wasn’t a peep from the relevant Ministry about this project; who had won the tender, how much would it cost, what would the project comprise and how long it would take? The Ministry’s inability to communicate was astonishing given the massive inconvenience caused by the closure of the main road and the diversion of all traffic through either Matabele or across the old Weavers’ ford in Odi. Now with the job done, the river crossing (not bridges) complete and the road long ago re-opened, the Minister reports that it all cost P15 million and that the road was re-opened in early December.

If Isaac Davids had not asked that very belated question, we would still be waiting to be told anything. (Daily News April 6). But then I have a similar problem with the new bridge at Ramotswa which is a genuine bridge, unlike Odi, unexpectedly large, and likely to cost a great deal more than Odi – so, say P150 million. But how little information has been made known about this project during the past year.!No interviews with villagers appreciative that old problems would soon be overcome, with project managers about the problems experienced and the place’s leadership about the gain the bridge will represent for Ramotswa.

Nothing. But then bear in mind how little we hear about progress on an even more important bridge, the one at Kazangula. What we should be getting are regular monthly progress reports. Why are they not being provided?

Etcetera II



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