ZIMSEC O Level Geography Notes: Transport: Rail transport network in Zimbabwe

  • The railway network of Zimbabwe is less complicated when compared to the road network.
  • There are,however, some striking similarities between these.
  • The main railway line of Zimbabwe runs along the Central Watershed from Bulawayo through Gweru, Kwekwe, Kadoma and then Harare to Mutare.
  • It was built in the late 1890s and early 1900s.
  • All other lines are considered branch lines from this route, built for specific purposes.
  • Railway lines are even more expensive to build than tarred roads.
  • This is why there are fewer rails than roads in Zimbabwe or anywhere else for that matter and why Government has concentrated more on roads since independence.
  • Three factors have played a key role in the layout of the network of Zimbabwe, these being:
    1. The need to link areas of economic importance in the form of towns and cities, mines and commercial farming areas.
    2. Relief- railways are more sensitive to relief features than roads and so have to be laid down where relief is fairly gently. Trains have difficulty in scaling steep gradients. Building bridges, embankments, cuttings and tunnels for railways is equally more expensive than roads.
    3. The need for links with surrounding countries and export ports also accounts for the rail routes.
  • The railways of Zimbabwe are run by a parastatal called the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) with its headquarters and major workshops in Bulawayo.
  • This replaced the Rhodesian Railways (RR) which operated during the colonial era
  • The NRZ is facing numerous problems, some of which include ageing and outdated rolling stock (wagons).
  • There is closure of mines and farms, which are vital sources of income.
  • Shortages of coal for some of its locomotion or the coal becoming too expensive.
  • Competition for passengers and goods with road and air transport.
  • Occasional power-cuts by ZESA affecting signals and train movement on the electrified section.
  • Inefficiency and corruption by board members.
  • For trains using diesel, the very high costs of the fuel or its capacity has also been another problem.

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