The International Steam Pages

Steam in Botswana, July 1999

This report is by Jonathan Duvel and covers Bamangwato Concessions Ltd. (BCL), Selebi-Phikwe, July 1999

Donald Bell and I visited the BCL underground copper mine after spending a week on Zimbabwe Steam. It is certainly worth a visit if you're in Southern Africa, and is the only location in Botswana with operable steam locomotives.

We arrived midday on Friday 2 July 1999 and reported to security at the mine complex. Whilst the open track is fairly accessible, security at the mine complex and at the shafts is rather strict. It is therefore advisable to contact (before you visit) the Transportation Manager Philip Motswagole, BCL, P.O.Box 591, Selebi-Phikwe, Botswana.

Mr.Motswagole was very busy at the time, but was very hospitable and explained the mines transport operation to us. He arranged for someone to show us around the complex.

BCL is apparently owned by RST of Randburg, South Africa and has a total staff compliment of about 5000. The system is at the end of the Botswana Railways branch 60km from Serule in the east of the country. The mine complex (housing Phikwe plant, the locomotive shed and offices) is about 4km from the BR exchange yard at Selebi-Phikwe. The Botswana Power Corporation is adjacent to the plant, and is served by a branch at the end of a triangle between the exchange yard and the plant. Phikwe #3 shaft (the oldest still in use) is on a short branch from the plant. Selebi shaft is at the extremity of the line, about 15km south from Phikwe plant. A relatively new shaft, Selebi North is served by a branch off this line. Gauge is 1067mm (3'6").

Locomotives, black livery:
BCL #LO801 (ex NRZ 19B #337), cannibalized for spares.
BCL #LO804 (ex NRZ 19th #328), in the shed - boiler work is complete, but
staff are still busy with undercarriage work. (Some wheels have already been
BCL #LO805 (ex SAR 19D #2765), at work for the Selebi and Selebi North shafts.
BCL #LO806 (ex SAR 19D #3350), in the shed, cold but ex-works - undercarriage and boiler. (Gleaming and looking fit for a Rovos train!).
BCL #LO807 (ex SAR 19D #3341), serviceable, but cold.
BCL #LO809 (ex NRZ 14A #520), serviceable, but cold.
BCL #LO810 (ex NRZ 14A #523), at work for the Phikwe #3 shaft.
BCL #LO811 (ex NRZ 14A #511), serviceable, but cold.

The Garratts were acquired ca.1995 and Mr.Motswagole says they plan to keep only two Garratts serviceable, fleecing the third for spares. Two locomotives are in steam and used on shaft duties daily, usually one of the 19 classes and one Garratt.

A tiny yellow diesel-hydraulic locomotive is used as standby, but we saw it used on some Phikwe #3 shaft trips. Apparently it does not work the long trips to Selebi or Selebi North shafts. The underground 762mm (2'6") system reportedly uses Goodman and Lenning battery-electric locomotives, and some Funkey diesel-hydraulic locomotives. An old Hudswell Clark diesel-mechanical locomotive (#D880) of the Botswana Power Corporation is plinthed in the town center of Selebi-Phikwe.

BCL has a total pool of 34 short (6m) hoppers, each having a capacity of 40t copper ore. They are loaded from bins at the shafts and are discharged through swing-doors at the offloading bay at the plant. Selebi and Selebi North shafts are served using 20 hoppers, whilst the Phikwe #3 shaft is served generally using 12-14 hoppers. Copper ore is refined into copper granules at Phikwe plant, then dispatched to the exchange yard in 2t bags stacked in hoppers. Stores supplies for the plant, like lime, salt and coal are received at the exchange yard.

Operation is primarily Monday to Saturday. Shifts are morning (07:00-15:00), afternoon (15:00-23:00) and night (23:00-07:00). Phikwe #3, Selebi and Selebi North shafts are served 24 hours, depending on demand - Shaft control simply radio for trains when the loading bins are full. (up to 800t of copper ore!). Thus, operations are somewhat erratic and unpredictable for photography. The exchange yard and power station are served on the night shift only, generally by the locomotive on Phikwe #3 shaft duties.

The first working for the afternoon shift was to Selebi shaft, were we found #LO805 trundling through the loading bin. This is a very quick process - 20 hoppers are loaded without stopping. We got some cool photos of a clagging locomotive (the only time you get) with thorn trees in the foreground and the loading bin at the back, then she was off, so we raced to get her up ahead. (A bit like Kimberly-DeAar - On this stretch they move it, we clocked the train doing 70km/hr, not too slow for industrial steam! - But loads are only about 1200t and grades appeared generally flatter that 2%.) It seems like Wardale has perhaps visited here recently, as locomotives are driven extremely efficiently, with no smoke to speak of on the open road. The dirt road parallels the line most of the way, but power lines adorn the other side, so cracker shots are minimal. A very quick turnaround at the offloading bay (also on the trot) and they were ready for the next load, but the sun was fading fast.

On Saturday 3 July 1999, we were up early for the first working of the morning shift. Thinking we were wise, we waited at the Selebi North junction for the first train. For two hours! Clouds were gathering fast, as the wind picked up. Our train eventually came, hauled tender-first by #LO805. We were hoping to see a Garratt at the shaft for some variety, but thought it actually best this way, as we certainly had our dose of Garratts in Bulawayo! A very quick turnaround at the Selebi North loading bin, and we took photographic advantage of the clag, as we knew that would be all we would get. There are many thorn trees on this section too, but no power lines - this line has some good morning photo spots. After taking photos of #LO805 on this section (probably the most scenic of the entire system), she disappeared into the mine complex with her load and that's the last we saw of her... We had to head back to South Africa.

A good hotel to stay at whilst on a steam bash is the Syringa Lodge, P.O.Box 254, Selebi-Phikwe, Botswana. e-mail, or phone (267)810444. (Interestingly, displayed in the bar at this establishment is cabside number plate off SAR GMA #4085!)

BCL #LO805 at Selebi North Shaft

Rob Dickinson