The International Steam Pages

Steam in Mocambique

Paul Ash gives a guide to northern Mocambique in August 2001...

Here is an update of the situation at Xai-Xai which I, after many delays and false advances, finally managed to reach, like Kitchener going to Khartoum, at the end of June.

But firstly, I presume you've seen Henry Posner's update on steam at Moatize. What this means is that with a bit of careful planning, a tour to northern Mozambique could offer hardy enthusiasts the following: Double headed 2-10-2s on the remaining section of the Trans Zambezia Railway, the Henschel Atlantic on a passenger train to Lumbo on the Indian Ocean and woodburning Baldwin 2-8-2s on log trains from Namacurra to Quelimane. Like Henry says, Mozambique is the Galapagos of steam - small, bloody difficult to reach but with some unusual beasts.

My visit to Xai-Xai was reasonably successful although I got chased out of the depot by a very officious official who demanded I get written permission from HQ in Maputo before coming back with my camera. Not really viable on a Saturday afternoon and 200km north of the capital.

I saw five locos, all of which seemed to have survived the floods, more or less intact, and a lot of rolling stock in an advanced state of decay. The five locos were No.06 (Baldwin 2-8-0), 05 (Baldwin 2-6-2), 012 (Alco 2-6-0) and two 2-6-0s (presumably Alcos 082 and 083) locked away in the workshops. An elderly CFM worker told me that 06 and 05 were "working" and that the others needed heavy repairs. No.06 looked pretty intact with grease in all the right places and all fittings and gauges complete. Her boiler and firebox cladding is peeled and missing in many places, and although there was coal in her tender, the weeds growing in it and the rusty shovel left halfway through a scoop, indicate that she has not run for some time.

No.05 looked in worse condition - boiler dome on her cab roof, tender missing (although the very clean tender locked away in the workshops is probably hers) but her cab fittings and controls were mostly intact. All tubes were missing, however. I have never seen this loco run but she's certainly been in different parts of the yard and shed on all of my visits so I suppose she has been used in recent years. No. 012 which has been dumped in the same position in back of the (now-roofless) shed for years.

Couldn't get into the workshops to see the other two Alcos. From what I could see they are relatively clean, have all their running gear but no tenders. No.082 was stripped for overhaul in 1996 and it seems as if this is still going on; No.083 (not 081 as previously reported) used to be dumped outside the workshops so hopefully her move inside means that some work has been done. Two other locos, Nos. 013 and 081 remain unaccounted. Earlier reports said the latter had been sent to Maputo years ago for repairs and never came back. Certainly most of the steam locomotives in Maputo - lovely Baldwin Pacifics, Mountains and Santa Fe's - were sold to the Russians for scrap in the 1980s (actually I have some evidence that some at least ended up in Pakistan in ships which were also for scrap. RD). However, both engines could be lying somewhere on the system, maybe derailed or at one of three outlying depots.

Overall, the surviving locos look good with very little rust, which is surprising given the hot and humid climate and the recent deluge. It seems unlikely that the line will ever open again but there is work going on. Staff arrive every day and clack away on their typewriters, and there was evidence that something (?) gets done in the workshops on weekdays. One of my friends - the steam loco fitter - still works there but he was away this particular weekend. As things stand and judging by the reaction of Mr Official, CFM maintains a proprietal air over the line. Perhaps the idea of a steam museum is still on the books at CFM HQ in Maputo but it's going to need outside (Western) help and enthusiasm to get anything going. Any takers?

Rob Dickinson