We Need a City Commuter Train That Doesn’t Render Us Stranded

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Copyright © 2015 Tanzania Daily News. All rights reserved
By Lawi Joel

THE Dar City centre-Ubungo commuter train does not stop operating, like a mother with children who is the sole provider of the family, must keep on running.

The train service was launched on 20 October 2012 while Dr Harrison Mwakyembe was then the Minister for Transport people affectionately refer to the trains as ‘treni ya Mwakyembe’.

The reason is that before the advent of the train service, the city’s commuter transport was dominated by privately owned buses better known as daladala, which had become overwhelmed by the city’s huge population of commuters.

Daladala owners, who brag that their buses are never too full take on aboard more people and the buses are always jam packed with commuters stuffed inside.

Travelling by them as a result is uncomfortable at best. In a city with humid weather, travelling by daladala has become a sort of punishment. Moreover, the buses cheat commuters.

The bus conductors seem to look for every possible excuse of increasing the fare. More often than not they don’t issue tickets, later demanding for them sparking off arguments.

The ‘treni ya Mwakyembe’ became a darling of the people as it brought back punctuality. With daladala as the only means of commuting in the city, getting late to work was the order of the day.

The arrival of commuter trains changed all that in many working places in the city. Keeping appointments is now possible. More by fate than design, the two Dar commuter trains run in two different directions.

The one plying Dar- Mwakanga that starts from the Tazara headquarters runs a longer route. The city is growing very fast and expands mostly southwards in the same direction the rail runs.

The commuters adore it is their salvation against transport problem. In the days of daladala only the city’s population on this side was held to ransom in that if they wanted to commute to work, which indeed they had to, they must board the buses and pay the fare demanded no matter how jammed they are on board.

Commuters were just too many for the buses and the scramble was and in some places still fierce. This situation created opportunities for commuter bus owners to exploit commuters as much as they could. They did what they wanted. Pickpockets found the atmosphere conducive for their ‘black’ profession.

The arrival of the commuter trains brought about considerable relief. The Ubungo-Station commuter train is different in a way.

While the other one runs away from the City, this one completes a circle within the City. Its collapse therefore inconveniences hugely City residents from Kawe, Kimara, Segerea to Buguruni and Vingunguti.

The joy and ease of commuting brought by these trains is immense. Given the fact that they both charge same flat rate for as charged by daladala, the trains are no doubt today the most convenient means of transport. However the gloomy past, Dar commuters may have thought they had been cast into oblivion.

The trains are supposed to run five days a week a number of times daily. The Dar-Makwanga train first reflected on its commuting challenges and reduced its daily trips from six to four daily. The Ubungo-station ‘iron snake’ has not reduced its daily trips, although it is worse off.

The engine is so tired that its once loud powerful pull that would announce its presence well in advance is gone. Today, as if ashamed of poor performance it crawls silently and arrives at its destinations by the grace of God. Its daily schedule remains the same but it can manage to run only the other day or twice weekly.

The irregular schedule is badly hurting the Tanzania Railways Limited (TRL). It is reported that TRL uses over 2m/- to run the train daily. However, its once 1m/- daily revenue has slumped alarmingly.

The Dar-Mwakanga train too has become a habitual irregular performer. As a result people have begun to lose hope in it as a dependable means of transport. “I don’t rely on it anymore,” says one Lameck, a resident at Tabata. “If I find it, I use it.

But I don’t wait for it.” In fact nobody anymore waits for ‘treni ya Mwakyembe’. During its heyday it announced its presence by blowing boldly its horn. That is gone.

The old engine would laboriously pull along the nine coaches and give the sound of someone heaving hard to carry a heavy load.

That sound too is gone. The only left sign of its presence are irregularity of its performance and huge plumes of smoke. Speaking with Reporter at Large recently at his office in Dar es Salaam, TRL Public Relations Manager, Midladjy Maez said while the trains were out of operation the City’s pollution from smoke reduced significantly.

“It was equivalent to taking 150 buses off the road and sparing the City pollution from exhaust smoke,” he said. Today, however, the train may not operate regularly, but when it does, it is one of the chief polluters. Still, for all its failure and pollution, TRL is doing its best and many appreciate the effort.

“It is not because Dr Mwakyembe has been transferred to a different ministry,” a commuter said. “Mr Samuel Sitta is also a no-nonsense person but he took over the trains operating in a sector that seems to be neglected.”

The main problem, commuters contend, is that government has not given the trains the attention they deserve. They say, for instance, relevant authorities should not have brought in coaches for up country trains.

Although they admit travel upcountry needs to be reliable, most commercial activity takes place is Dar es Salaam. If commuting in the city slackens, the rest of the country will suffer.

“You may suspend upcountry train services, but once you have introduced this kind of service in the city, it should be a commitment,” says Mr Maez.

“There is no compromise with workers under such circumstances. Either there is train or not.” The only people who benefit from this shoddy performance are the company’s technicians who expect to be paid overtime for work done when the train breaks down, which is often.

“You cannot just call them back after work hours just because the train has broken down. They demand more pay and that’s where we at times disagree,” Maez.

“This problem is huge.” So far, there is nothing commuters can do but quietly resort for a return to the stuffy commuter buses and uncertainty while the ‘treni ya Mwakyembe’ is slowly but surely coughing itself to death.