Commuter trains ease traffic in Dar

In Dar es Salaam the government in collaboration with the private sector has been trying hard to come up with solutions to solve the traffic jams that bedevil the city.

One strategy has been the implementation of commuter train routes in the city, established in October 2012.

The service is cheap and relatively reliable compared to other means of transport, including private cars and commuter buses famously known as ‘daladala,’ according to passengers who use the trains.

Adelina Kajuna, who runs a stationery business in the city centre, told urbanafrica that since the establishment of the commuter train, she has been saving at least Sh48000 ($29) a month.

“The commuter [train] has cut half of my expenses on transportation. It is real helpful to ordinary people,” she said.

Joseph Mwakatobe, a teacher at Bunge primary school, said the service was conducive to all citizens from all walks of life. He said the good thing with the train service was time saving.

“There is no traffic jam on the train. The vehicles are supposed to stop and give way to the train when it crosses the road, so once you are in there it is obvious you will catch up with your activities on time,” said Mwakatobe.

I traveled on the train and observed that there was tight security — each carriage carries a conductor and a police officer. Tickets are sold at each station and the conductor checks them after the train starts its journey.

Unlike in commuter buses where there have been many pick-pocketing incidents, so far no thefts have been reported since the train started operating in the city.

The train plies a 12 kilometre route from Ubungo to the city centre and runs for 34.5 kilometres from Mwakanga to Kurasini. The service operates from Monday to Saturday and not on Sundays and holidays. The Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA) and Tanzania Railway Limited (TRL) offer the service from 6.a.m. to 10 a.m., break, and then resume from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. — the peak hours.

Dausen Mutafungwa, a traffic police officer at Buguruni junction, said the commuter train service has helped reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

“I can say that it has slightly reduced the number of vehicles. At least some people now opt to use train instead of their private cars,” he said.

Commuter trains_Dar_2
Passengers seated comfortably on a commuter train. Florence Mugarula.

Solving students’ transport problems

Students face transport challenges in the city. Many commuter buses harass them and some conductors refuse to carry them because they pay half the fare compared to other passengers. Those lucky enough to board the buses are not allowed to take seats. The seats are for those who pay the full fare of Sh400 ($0.25) per route. However, with commuter trains, the TRL has reserved a special carriage for students. The students pay only Sh100 ($0.0625) and most of them manage to get seats.

Trains operating at a loss?

In May 2013, TAZARA reported an increase in revenue from Tsh 40 to 50 million ($25,000 to $31,000) on the commuter line, but seven months later the TRL reported that the trains were operating at a loss.

It costs Sh4 million ($2500) per day to run the train services, while the revenue collected daily stands at Sh2 million ($1250). The high operating cost has been attributed to the engines and carriages, which aren’t cost effective for short journeys.

The Minister for Transport, Dr. Harrison Mwakyembe admits that the trains are not doing well in terms of revenue collection but are performing best when it comes to facilitating transport and enabling citizens to get to their working stations on time.

The profit is not only measured on the collection of fares but also takes into account how the trains solve traffic jams and enable citizens to reach their destinations on time, Mwakyembe told urbanafrica.

“We are looking at this issue in a broader way. We are not focusing [on] the loss in fare collections. The issue here is to see how many vehicles have been parked [at] home after the establishment of this reliable service, the trend of getting early in offices and others of such nature. TRL and TAZARA could be operating [at a] loss, but logically this is not a loss because we are doubling production in other sectors,” he said.

The train ferries between 4,800 and 5,000 passengers daily.

Efficiency challenges

The train engines and carriages that are being used need to be changed, said Mwakyembe. The carriages used by the commuter trains are not appropriate for short distance and they are too heavy to be pulled by one engine, he explained. Each carriage, according to experts, weighs 30 tonnes before carrying any passengers.

The TRL managing director, engineer Kipallo Kisamfu said in the last four years TRL has rehabilitated 14 passenger coaches and three locomotives that were needed for the Dar es Salaam commuter train.

However, for the commuter train service to effectively operate it needs at least four sets of modern commuter trains, which are commonly known as Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs).

“We can’t tell exactly when we will receive these DMUs but I can say that we expect to purchase the modern commuter trains in the near future,” said Kisamfu.

The DMUs are easy to operate and cost effective, he said.

TRL’s public relations manager, Midladjy Maez said all planned projects, which were set and discussed last year, were still waiting for implementation. Issues discussed by the Parliamentary Committee for infrastructure include purchasing of engines, wagons and many others.

While government waits for the new trains, some commuters question the trains’ reliability,

Fariji Msonsa, a journalist and commuter train user, said the service was not reliable.

“We are grateful that the government introduced this service, but the challenging thing is that it is not reliable, she said. “It always stops operation when it rains because of poor infrastructure. And since we are told it is operating [at a] loss, it means the operations could be cut anytime.”

Florence Mugarula is a reporter for the The Citizen newspaper in Tanzania. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism (BAJ-Hons) from the University of Dar es Salaam. He also attended a sub-editing training course for six months at Nation Media Group (NMG) in Nairobi, Kenya.He can be contacted at mugarula2004@gmail.com.

Main image: Passengers board a commuter train in Dar es Salaam. Emmanuel Herman.

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