TWENTY-TWO passengers on a Harare-bound National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) train escaped death when it derailed on Saturday night at Heany Junction about 30km east of Bulawayo.
NRZ acting general manager retired Brigadier-General Levy Mayihlome confirmed the accident yesterday and said they were still investigating the cause.
"Yes, the passenger train derailed at 9:55pm last night (Saturday) and investigations are going on to establish the cause of the accident," he said at the scene of the accident.
"The antiquated infrastructure might have contributed to the derailment, but we are still investigating."
The passenger train was carrying 120 people and the 22 that were injured were taken to the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) where 21 were treated and discharged while one remained detained as her condition was said to be critical.
"NRZ sent one of its doctors to UBH. Unfortunately, the hospital has no medicine and we had to buy drugs from the pharmacy for the injured passenger.
"We hired buses from the Zimbabwe United Passengers' Company to ferry some passengers to Harare and other places. NRZ personnel are repairing the line and it should be functional later today (yesterday)," Mayihlome said.
Venencia Mapurisa from Nyamandlovu, who is still admitted at UBH with serious head and leg injuries, from her hospital bed yesterday said she was asleep when the accident happened and only woke up to find her jacket soaked in blood.
"I was asleep when the accident happened and woke up bloodied and in pain with some men assisting to pull me out of the train. That's all I can remember," said Mapurisa, who was travelling to visit relatives in Harare.
NRZ board chairperson Alvord Mabhena said the railway tracks were totally unreliable and it was risky to travel by train as some of the infrastructure was now obsolete.
"Summer season is around and the tracks will be expanding due to heat. It is going to be difficult for the parastatal," he said at the scene. "Some of the infrastructure can't be repaired anymore.
If it was my private business, I was going to close the passenger trains because it's not safe for people."
According to a witness, Patience Ncube — who was at the scene of the accident — the train derailed and eight coaches fell on their side.
"I saw people coming out through the windows, including one pregnant woman, who almost delivered as a result of the accident. She was rushed to hospital by one of the five ambulances which arrived to take the injured passengers to hospital," she said.
The accident comes barely two weeks after members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development heard that the 470km rail track between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls was now a death trap and needed a complete overhaul to the tune of $50 million as rampant vandalism was negatively affecting operations.
The committee was on a familiarisation tour of the NRZ's Bulawayo facilities when they came face-to-face with the mounting problems at the rail company.
NRZ has recorded three train derailments on the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls Route this year.
A tourist died and 20 others were injured when a Victoria Falls Steam Train Company tram collided with an NRZ goods train last month.
The tourists were attending the wedding of Australian millionaire Peter Holmes à Court and American photographer Alissa Everett.