'Bring The Train Back' - Passengers

The proposal by the Botswana Railways to terminate the passenger train service has not gone down well with low budget travellers.

The government has announced that the passenger train service will be terminated in April because it is not cost effective. 

However, this move will leave many people in the lurch especially workers in the low income bracket. Passengers preferred the train because it is more affordable.  For a number of years, people have relied on the passenger train.

Previously, the Zimbabwe National Railways (NZR) provided the service but in the 80s, Botswana Railways took over.

Some years ago, the passenger train went as far as Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. 

But starting next month, Botswana Railways will only be running a goods train service.

For mine worker, Pelaelo Gaerone, who boarded the train from Gaborone to Palapye on Friday evening, he does not like the move to terminate the passenger train service. 

Gaerone, who works in the South African mines, says when he arrives late in Gaborone, there would be no buses in the evening. "I am just arriving now and this is why I am taking the train," he said, adding that he prefers the train because it is cheaper than buses.  

Another passenger, Banyatsi Tsenang, is also not impressed with the move to terminate the service.  "We are going to suffer when they stop the service," she laments.  She said during the holidays there is always a scramble for buses.

"The train is much cheaper.  We cannot all afford bus fares," she said.  Tsenang pays P28 from Gaborone to Francistown in the economy class. 

Tsenang has been travelling by train for a long time.  She considers the train to be safe.
She suggested Botswana Railways should rather be increasing the fares slightly instead of terminating the service.  To her, the government move does not take into consideration the plight of low income earners.

Tshotego Keadumele, a mother of six, is quite a familiar and popular figure at the railway station.  This is because she has been a regular passenger for quite sometime. 

On Friday, Keadumele, a labourer at Bela Bela Quarries, was boarding the train for Palapye.   This time she was accompanied by a colleague.  But most of the time,  she travels  with her children. 

Keadumele prefers the train because it is affordable.  She can take part of her  family for just P100.  She started using the train a long time ago. Some of her children have never travelled by road to their home village.

Life is going to be rough for Keadumele because she will struggle to raise the fare. 

She suggested that the government should not terminate the train service  completely. 

It should be made available during holidays to reduce congestion at bus ranks. 

Keadumele said travelling by train is more comfortable and you can even sleep.  There is no harassment since Botswana Railways stopped selling liquor in the train.  Crime is not endemic. 

"We are not happy with this decision at all.  I have been using trains all the time," she said.

Even politicians are against the move taken by the government and the Botswana Railways decision to do away with passenger train service. 

A week ago, the MP for Tonota South, Pono Moatlhodi, moved a motion in Parliament, without notice, that the government should halt the decision to terminate the passenger train service.

Moatlhodi said it was announced over the radio that the passenger train service will be terminated in April.

The decision was not considerate since most workers in Gaborone are from the Northern part of the country.  For most of these workers, the train was the only affordable mode of transport for them. 

Moatlhodi pleaded that the decision would deprive Batswana of an essential service.

The legislator said trains were cheaper and safer.  Buses are more expensive as compared to the train. 

He said that if the passenger train service is stopped, it could lead to many accidents on the roads. Bus drivers become tired after driving a long distance for many hours. In addition cattle are always roaming the roads, the MP said.

Moatlhodi suggested that instead of terminating the service, government should seek funds to bail out Botswana Railways.  The same thing happened when the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) was facing financial ruin. The government came up with a rescue package. Moatlhodi's motion was rejected on the basis that it was not urgent. 

On Friday, the MP for Kgatleng East, Isaac Mabiletsa pleaded with the government to reconsider the decision to terminate the passenger train service.  Mabiletsa said many people will suffer if the service is stopped. 

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