Batswana who planned to use the newly launched BR Express Train for their Easter holidays travels were dealt a blow on Wednesday when the train suffered mechanical faults that resulted with it failing to take off on schedule from Francistown. Botswana had just resumed the passenger train service after being suspended in 2009. President Ian Khama launched the train service on Tuesday in Lobatse. The train, which recently attracted negative attention after it was alleged that they have been corrupt practices in the purchase of the coaches from South Africa’s Transnet, is said to have failed to supply power to the coaches forcing it to leave Francistown late. Passengers in Palapye and Mahalapye who bought tickets and were waiting for the BR Express at their respective stations were left in the cold the whole night. To compound the problem for the passengers, waiting rooms in Palapye and Mahalapye are no longer in a good state which forced them to wait outside.
The train only arrived in Gaborone at around 0900 hours on Thursday, three hours late. The failure by BR Express is said to have infuriated President Ian Khama who felt that the malfunctioning of the train was an embarrassment on his administration. This publication has learnt that some cabinet ministers are calling for the sacking of the CEO of Botswana Railways Dominic Ntwaagae as they feel he has failed the company. At the centre of government frustration and embarrassment is that the train failed on its maiden trip, fuelling suspicion that the coaches were sub-standard. The passenger rail coaches were manufactured by Transnet Engineering, a division of Transnet South Africa at a cost of P280 million and 22 were already delivered while the remaining were to arrive early this month. Recently Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and Directorate of Intelligence Security Services (DISS) arrested some Botswana Railways executives and confiscated some files at their headquarters in Mahalapye on suspicion of corruption.
The Minister of Transport and Communications, Tshenolo Mabeo, said that it is embarrassing for his ministry to experience that during the train’s maiden trip.
“I am very worried about what has happened because first impression is very important and can make people either have confidence in you or lose it,” he said in an interview. He said that this calls on him to be very vigilant and hands on so that everything goes smoothly. Asked if heads will roll at Botswana Railways, Mabeo indicated that they are still investigating what could have led to the malfunctioning of the generator that supplies power to the passenger coaches. “Disciplinary action cannot be ruled out but that will happen after a report has been submitted regarding the current problem,” he said. Asked on the quality of the coaches, Mabeo said that he visited the plant where they were manufactured in Pretoria and Cape Town and didn’t find anything sinister at the two plants. On the current investigations by DCEC, he said they will have to wait for their investigations and if there is any wrongdoing they will take action.
Mabeo assured the nation that the current problems will not derail them in ensuring that the passengers train starts its operations. Botswana Railways stopped the passenger train in 2009 citing safety reasons as the passenger wagons were worn out. They were later bought by Zimbabwe Railways which is currently using them.