Chugging through townships, maize fields and scrubland as the sun rises, Zimbabwe‘s only commuter train is cheap and reliable — two qualities that its passengers cherish in a downwards-spiralling economy.
Each morning sleepy travellers walk to the tracks and clamber aboard before the train leaves the Cowdray Park settlement at 6:00 am on its 20-kilometre (12-mile) journey into Bulawayo, the country’s second city.
The hugely popular service was only revived in November after being suspended for 13 years as the rail network collapsed under President Robert Mugabe, who ruled for nearly four decades until ousted in 2017.
Two distinct features of train travel for residents have been its reliability and cost effectiveness. The train leaves the Cowdray Park settlement at 6:00am for its 12 mile journey to Bulawayo, the country’s second city. It gets to Bulawayo about an hour later, on schedule.
The prices of minibuses went up by two dollars according to commuters, making it expensive when compared with the train fare which is just 50 cents. Fuel prices also went up by about a double of their initial asking, forcing more people to rethink their means of transport.
Former ‘heartbeat’ of the region
Bulawayo once had two commuter train lines carrying commuters from either side of the city, while the capital Harare had three lines dubbed “Freedom Trains” because they allowed passengers to avoid high costs. In 2006 they were scrapped. Only one line was relaunched and it cost $2.5 million to the state.
Nyasha Maravanyika, the railway Press’ relations chief believes that $10 million would put the other four commuter lines back in operation.
Till then though, commuters are happy about the train and see it as a step in the right direction.