The International Steam Pages

Steam in Mocambique in the 1990s

Paul Ash writes:

"I am a Mozambique junkie and have been there many times since 1993, lured by memories of going there as a six-year old with my folks and later by pictures of the Xai Xai narrow gauge line in Steam in Africa.

Seems that most visitors to Xai Xai get to see nothing happening. It's a pity because when it does work, this is an awesome African railway adventure. I have ridden it four times and only once was there not a single derailment or loco failure. The fact that CFM keeps the line open is truly astounding in these days of foreign 'advisors' and consultants. On my first trip in 1993, the working loco was Alco 2-6-0, No. 082, since stripped for a protracted 'overhaul', last trip was behind the altogether more sound Baldwin 2-8-0 No. 06.

I shot film for a documentary we were planning to make on the railway - the project has since gone to into 'development hell' while we try and source funds to go back and shoot more film and record sound and interviews. Hopefully this will still happen.
I last saw the Inhambane line working in Feb 96 when 2-6-2 No.572 was dispatched to an unpronounceable sidng about 20km short of Inharrime to collect three wagonloads of sand. It looked like the train had been there for days - there was a cap over the chimney and the driver was kipping on a mat under a nearby tree. But 572 was in steam at least and the return trip was to happen 'soon'. The way things sometimes work in Mozambique, she might still be there. Loco 502, 2-6-2, might still be workable but everything else looked shot.

Up in Beira, the loco depot's storage line held tank locos 91, 84, 95, 92, 96 and 82 (all 2-8-2Ts) and 0-8-2T 54 as well as an unidentified Haine St Pierre 4-8-2+2-8-4 Garratt and Henschel 2-10-0 257. Some of the tank locos, 84 in particular, looked like they could be steamed tomorrow but all the locos were basically sound. A rail official said the tanks were to be sent to Quelimane to work that branch but now I see two of the Baldwin 2-8-2s have been revived there, proving that the only way of getting the truth here is to go to the place yourself and hang around for days if necessary. The lesson was made very clear when I asked a CFM worker at Inhambane station if any trains had run recently. "No," he said, "the railway is not working anymore." Mostly true from a consumer point of view, except that 572 was down the branch, waiting for its load of sand.....

Basically, there are steam locomotives all over the country, many of them (like the two isolated 2-10-0s at Moatize, near Tete) in complete working order. Some locos and entire trains stand isolated in section on the the former Trans-Zambezia Railway, abandoned during Renamo ambushes; elsewhere you'll see the sad remains at the foot of embankments, victims of sabotage and guerilla attacks.

I am assistant editor of Out There, a South African adventure travel magazine, and author of Southern Africa by Rail, published by Bradt late last year. I need to get further updates for both magazine and book so I'm planning to return to Mozambique soon. On the way, I intend doing as thorough recce as possible on exactly what the situation is. I have contacts at CFM through freelance work I do for a trade publication called Railways Africa so hopefully I'll be able to give you a total steam update. I do have slides of working locos and if I can persuade my art director to spare some time, I will scan them and mail them to you.

By the way, travel in Mozambique, although improving all the time, is often expnesive and frustrating. The roads are not wholly safe at night because of bad drivers as well as banditry. Getting to Quelimane involves an expensive domestic flight, but it beats the uncertainty of the loooooong truck ride from Beira.

But the rewards - when they happen - are truly worth it. American and German steam in a totally African setting. Long live the steam locomotive, long live. A luta continua."

Rob Dickinson