The International Steam Pages
21st Century steam in and around Bulawayo
These are the early reports on steam activity in the Bulawayo area which were originally carried on the main Africa page.
Below the reports are in two section:
The later reports are on a separate page.
John Curtis reports: "I was in Bulawayo from 7th to 11th January 2006, all the above locomotives were operable. On the 9th 386 was in steam in reserve on shed, 525 was on New Grain, quite a spectacle pushing 6 or 700 tons of bogie trucks up a curving grade on badly misaligned track with plenty of wheel slip and sparks flying from the rails; 416 was shunting freight in the station siding, 424 was station pilot shunting coaches, then Belmont after 612 replaced it at about 4p.m.. On 11th things were much the same except that 525 had gone for boiler washout and been replaced by 519."
Through March, April and into early May 2006, daily steam operation at Bulawayo was hampered by a coal shortage apparently owing to flooding problem at the special shaft at Hwange which provides the loco coal, Mike Taylor reported (9th May 2006). In a further update at the end of the month Mike reported (2nd June 2006) that the coal shortage was continuing and steam activity was at a low ebb, a situation that continued into mid-July 2006 (20th July 2006). A further report from early October showed just one steam locomotive out and about with an average of wagon load of coal a week being available (11th October 2006). By early November 2006, the situation was slightly improved with more coal and two steam locomotives in action, by mid-November management plans were to try to use four steam locomotives a day (17th November 2006) although events still sometimes conspired to make that difficult. By late November and early December 2006, shed visits showed that at least three steam locomotives a day were out and about (13th December 2006), but by mid January 2007 it was back to two again - 395 and 416 as it happens (26th January 2007). At the end of January, 395, 416 and 424 were rostered and about two weeks later Chas Rickwood found 416, 519 and 611 at work, coal stocks being better but not at the kind of level they should be (4th March 2007), while on 5th March, he found 424, 519 and 525 at work (7th March 2007). By late April, Mike Taylor reported 395, 519 and 611 at work, 416, 424 and 525 in P15 and 613 newly outshopped and being tested (25th April 2007). On 9th October 2007, Mike Taylor reported that, on 9th October 2007, 395, 424 and 611 on shunts although coal supplies were almost exhausted. 416 and 613 were in P15 (1st November 2007). On 19th November 2007, three locomotives were scheduled for the shunts but only two made it owing to a crewman going absent. 15A 424 was sent to Hwange Colliery to solve a motive power crisis on August 26th 2007 (and worked a real train en route) - it has subsequently been returned totally 'Christmas crackered' as might have been predicted (25th November 2007), by mid December 2007 the situation was similar. Click here for Chas Rickwood's October 2007 steam roster (26th December 2007). By mid-February Hwange colliery was operating at around 20% of capacity and there was no available coal... (25th February 2008). By mid-April 2008 two or three Garratts were in use most days and coal supplies seemed to be available 'just in time' (17th April 2008).
Rovos Rail very sensibly brought two of their own 25NC steam locomotives from down south for their April 2008 tour as the local locos did not always perform as they should have. The pictures from Colin Young show the international mix on Bulawayo shed (1st June 2008). Their experience with the Garratts does not bode well for the three tours here booked for July 2008.
By early 2009, the railway felt it could no longer host incoming steam tours. The latest report (20th March 2009) reads: "There are two Garratts serviceable at Bulawayo which are used on shunt duties when there is coal and lubrication oil. Most staff are on strike at the moment wanting their pay in US Dollars. One Garratt (15th) is in service at Wankie coal mine One Garratt (14th) is in service at Victoria Falls on the tourist train."
By May 2009, there had been no daily steam for a month although the railway has said that steam will return to duty in due course (20th May 2009). Indeed on 30th June 16As 611 and 613 were reported to be on Bulawayo shunts (16th July 2009) and at the end of August 2009 15As 414 and 416 were in action with a fair supply of coal available at the shed (31st August 2009), followed by 16As 611 and 613 on 2nd September 2009 (3rd September 2009).
For a long time there were rumours that steam would appear on the Bulawayo commuter trains, now (1st April 2004), a local newspaper report has confirmed this and I have added a first hand report, also late April and some early May PSs (9th May 2004).However by 15th June 2004 Chas Rickwood added "Not such good news on the steam front at present. The commuter trains have been diesel hauled for the past 3 weeks but I have not found out whether this is a policy change or due to lack of availability. 20th Class # 730 has been returned to the Museum along with 115 and 190. I called in at the shed this morning and 386 was the only loco in steam, being rostered as the 'Loco" shunt. 612 had already gone out on the West End duty. These two are the only serviceable steam locos at present. De 6s are usually on the commuters with the other shunt duties covered by DE9's and 10's. Seemingly there has been an improvement in diesel loco availability and/or a further drop in traffic volumes. Also diesel fuel is more available as witnessed by the lack of queues at the garages around town. I will be away for 6 weeks and wonder what the position will be when we get back!" The experiment was great while it lasted.
The following are variously from Mike Taylor and Chas Rickwood
16th December 2005:
Some locos back in steam after fresh supplies of coal arrived from
8th December 2005:
There are no steam locos in operation.
5th December 2005:
386 Yardmaster, 424 Belmont, 525 New Grain
November 26th 2005:
612 Ym, 525 West End, 424 Bel
November 18th 2005:
November 3rd 2005:
Management suggest that 15 locos will be refurbished.
Chas Rickwood has sent the following reports (4th October 2005):
Four steam rostered on 1st October 2005, ie:-
Ym 416, Be 386, NG 525, WE 424
I understand that the VF and HRE overnight trains are running at present but the Lowveld "mixed" is not operating due to repair works on the Lundi bridge.
Called in at the shed yesterday (25th September 2005) and found that 3 steam locos rostered and out on duty which is good for a Sunday. 424 was on the YM duty, 386 on Belmont and 525 doing the New Grain turn. 416 was in the P15 with front tank removed so obviously still some problems there. 612 was undergoing washout. The Friends Committee had a productive meeting on Saturday afternoon and identified a number of projects for spending monies at the Museum.... a sizeable amount (in ZWD terms!) accrued from the recent VF train.
Chas Rickwood reports (20th September 2005):
Good news re # 416...nothing more serious than a dropped plug and loco now back on the shunts. I found
519 already stripped down to the bare boiler. Will be nice to get a 14A on a test trip to Plumtree in a couple of months' time!! After 519, I am told that a 16A is next in the queue.
Was also told at the shed, that 424 brought a load back (after dark) from Plumtree last Friday
Chas Rickwood reports (17th September 2005):
15th Class # 424 went on a test trip to Plumtree today (16th September 2005). Was scheduled to leave Byo at 0920 but only got away around noon. Last I heard was that the train was pulling in to Plumtree around 1700hrs having suffered injector problems en route. Khami control told me that there was plenty of traffic standing at Plumtree so provided there was adequate water, 424 could well still be en route home with a load. At the shed at 1600hrs were the three rostered shunt locos:- 525 (Belmont) 612 (New Grain) and 386 (Yardmaster). 525 and 612 had finished their shifts but 386 was in for crew change prior to going on evening shift. Same locos rostered for tomorrow (Saturday) plus 416 on the West End...seems that the damage suffered last weekend was not as serious as thought. Work has already started on the next loco in the refurbishment queue...14A # 519
Chas Rickwood is back in Bulawayo having celebrated a 'big birthday' on a steam safari to the Falls. He reports (15th September 2005):
Went down to the steam shed on 14th September 2005. 416 in the P15...told that has a damaged crown plate (from the safari mentioned above, RD), severity being assessed. 525 was out on the Belmont shunt, 612 on the New Grain and 386 on Yardmaster. 424 now back on the roster after the retube and undergoing steam test...expected to go on test trip to Sawmills shortly. Severe diesel shortage meant that all three passenger trains out of Bulawayo were cancelled last evening but Harare and VF trains running tonight. Lowveld train has not run for a while.
Mike Taylor, substituting for Chas Rickwood who is in the UK with Juliet reports (2nd August 2005).
Brief visit to the steam shed on 31/07/05.
Chas Rickwood circulated this on 4th July 2005 but I was away and have posted it on 26th July 2005.
"15th Class #416 was rostered for a Test Trip to Plumtree last Thursday (June 30th). The train was scheduled to leave the Loco at 0810hrs. Had a few things to do in town so just before midday decided to use some precious fuel and go out on the Plumtree road and try to catch up the train. I saw smoke in my rear view mirror soon after going through Bellevue. It was 416 tackling the bank out of
Bulawayo. First interception was at Emgwanini crossing where I found the train consist was water tank, fitters' caboose, 25 bogies
(incl 6 loaded) and van. A fair load and in the event proved too much for 416 which eventually failed just beyond Leighwoods with reportedly injector problems. As at yesterday (Sat) morning the loco had not yet re-appeared at the Loco so was presumably still awaiting towing back. A sad end to the first loco of the retubing exercise so hope the problems are not too serious. Got some nice shots as there were frequent stops for blowups and inspections by the crew so easy to get in front of the train. Journey time from Byo to failure at Leighwoods was just over 3 hours. It was great to be out in the bush again chasing steam on a glorious winter's day after a lapse of 4 years.
Things are looking good according to Chas Rickwood (13th June 2005):
"Great news from NRZ about the retubing of 10 x 15th Class to be completed over the next 18 months. It appears that two years ago, the steam shed had been
'sentenced' for closure but when the new GM took over, he asked for a relook at the position. He obviously listened to approaches by the steam lobby which was supported by local FOBRM members.
This culminated in a statement by NRZ which appeared in last Wednesday's "Byo Chronicle" and followed the commissioning of 15th Class # 416 after a retube and other work in the P15 shed. The front page of the paper showed a picture of the front end of 416 with the GM cutting the tape to commission the loco. The following points were made in the newspaper article with my additional comments gleaned from railway sources:-
To which Chas added a few further clarifications (15th June 2005):
1. Timetable for the retubing programme is one loco every two months (not 2 per month as I stated)
Things are looking up according to Chas Rickwood (13th June 2005):
"A big improvement in the steam shed since my last report a fortnight ago. Called in there on Friday and found 5 locos in steam,
The previous report from Chas Rickwood dated from the end of May 2005 (added 4th June 2005) and spoke for itself:
"Have been traveling a lot in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe since I last
reported from Byo in March. I did manage to get to the steam shed on Saturday
The previous report from Chas Rickwood dated from March 8th 2005 (added 23rd March 2005):
Managed to get to the shed for the first time for a while. 3 locos were rostered but were all out at the time of my visit in the late afternoon. So I set out to track them down.....
Previously he reported for December
2004/January 2005 (added 15th February 2005) "Got down to the steam shed
on 20th December 2004 to find that NRZ Museum 14th Class # 507 has been "resurrected": for shunt duties. She has been in steam for a few days and the boiler was found to be in "good nick" after all these years out of service. Apparently the P15 shop did quite a bit of work repairing rust corrosion in the front tank. Got a few shots of the 14th in steam...as yet she has only worked around the shed area as the shunts are at a low ebb at present with the local factories on Christmas shutdown. Yesterday (Monday) saw 15th Class # 386 on the Belmont duty with 14A's #s 515 and 522 in steam on shed as spare engines. The three Mpopoma shunts were all in the hands of DE6's with DE9's on the YM and NG turns.
The latest update I have comes from the the Railway Society of Southern Africa, Reef Branch Newsletter October 2004 (added 2nd November 2004), as usual Chas Rickwood reports:
Monday 16th August saw the following locos rostered:- YM 386, BEL 612, NG 613. Both 515 and 395 were in for washout so there are now 5 steam in the "active pool".
At the Steam Shed just before lunch on September 1st and all was quiet. 395 was in steam on shed and was "spare". Rostered were:-
BEL 515, YM 386, WE 613. As I departed, 386 came up from the Station with a rake of blue coaches ex the Harare overnight train which presumably was in a few hours late. Nothing unusual these days as FOBRM member Rolf Hilgenfeld arrived in Byo one day last week 7 1/2 hours late from Harare after two derailments! - one being a goods train in front which had derailed between Kwekwe and
Gweru, and secondly the oncoming diesel at Gweru which came off the track before it got to the train.
On 6th October 2004 he found 14A 522 was being prepared for the West End shunt, replacing a DE 9, presumably due to a failure. The roster read:- BEL 395, YM 386, NG 612, WE 522. No activity in the P15 shop as it was nearly lunchtime. No production from the P15 during the past 2 months (nothing unusual these days!) and the retube queue is still as reported in August, with 14A 525 awaiting fitting of its new boiler. The remaining two "serviceable locos" (515 and 613) were standing in the P15 area.
On 16th October 2004, five locos were steamed and four rostered, with 515 being spare. 386 had completed a washout and was rostered for 19th October to take over from 395 on the West End Shunt. Rostered on 18th October were:- BEL 612, YM 613, NG 522, WE 395. My 19th October visit was late afternoon so all locos were on shed except for 613 as the YM does the evening shift. In fact, it propelled the stock from the Harare train into the sidings, so it must have been very late arriving (again) and no doubt left very late to return to Harare. The WE turn also works evenings but a DE 9 usually takes over from the day steam working.
From Chas Rickwood ended the year with a further report (29th December 2003):
"2003 saw steam holding its own, albeit at a very low level as was the situation at the beginning of the year. The P15 is down to one or two fitters so in a way it is remarkable that anything is still running.- but such is the resilience of steam! Looking at recent rosters, weekdays have been seeing three steam on the shunts but it was good to see a couple out today (a Sunday). 395 was on the Yardmaster, a duty that it was often on before the prolonged retubing. 16A 613 was on the New Grain duty. Of the other 'serviceable steam", 612 was in for a washout and other attention and 522 was awaiting a tube blow. 515 is having attention to stays and elements (as was the position a month ago!). Locos in the P15 for retubing etc are 386, 416, 510 and 519."
Chas Rickwood, on his first visit to the steam shed in Bulawayo (27th
November 2003) for some time, was pleasantly surprised to find 5 steam locos rostered and
of 4 different classes:
Regular African correspondent Graham Roberts reports (28th August 2003): "I was in Bulawayo for a day in July, 14th class 515, 522 and 16th class 612 were active, all on shunting turns within the station limits over lunchtime which made a pleasing sight; 613 was in the steam shed under repair. I heard from their crews that there is a serious proposal to put steam back on the commuter trains Bulawayo-Khami and Bulawayo-Loveve, both about 15km away I understand. "Management" has suggested using 20th class locos from the museum; 730 has been moved to the steam shed for preparation; 736 is also under consideration but has proved to have damage (?) to its motion which will need to be fixed before it can be moved; 740 has also been considered. The drivers are not enthusiastic, pointing out that 20th class is too large, and will not even warm up over such a short run. High fuel consumption and rapid mechanical decline will be the inevitable result. The drivers would prefer 15th class locos. Either way, it would be a spectacular and welcome development to have steam-hauled passenger trains. I watched the commuter trains leaving behind diesel traction and they are a good length."
Chas Rickwood adds another of his regular reports (22nd May 2003): "Things seemed to have been in a timewarp whilst I have been away as the same locos were on the "active" list and nothing much had moved around the P15 shop. Rostered for duty on 7th May were: BEL 522, NG 612, WG 515. The other active loco (613) was in for a minor tube job.The two 15's (395 and 386) are in front in the retube queue followed by the two 14As (510 and 519). 395 has already had the reconditioned tubes installed so may not be too long before she is back in service. If one wants to see a 15 running, then it means a trip up to Wankie Colliery. I was there last week with Ian Welch from New Zealand and both 10 and 11 were in steam but there is little rail traffic at present. Whereas there used to be around 3 trips per shift with loaded coal down to TJ, this had dropped to about one load each 12 hours, ie down from 9 trainloads to 2. There is still coal moving by road but it did not seem as much as on my previous trip in March. Not only is NRZ unable to move the traffic on offer, but the Colliery is gradually running down with shortages of fuel and essential parts for the dragline and other opencast equipment."
Chas Rickwood's report (26th March 2003) reads: "I visited the steam
shed on Monday this week. This was my first visit for a while due to fuel constraints and
other priorities. Pleased to find that there were three steam rostered, ie
Chas Rickwood's report (1st October 2002) reads: "Went to the steam shed on Wednesday 18th September and four locos were rostered for duty. Good news was that the Yardmaster duty had reverted to steam at the expense of the LOCO duty for which no engine was rostered. So this meant that four locos left the shed that day and the pattern had been the same for the two preceding days. The roster read: BEL 416, YM 613, NG 515, WG 525. There has been some revision to the retube programme with 15th class 406 and 424 being substituted by 14A's 510 and 519. 15th class 395 and 386 are scheduled to be finished first followed by the two 14A's. The delay in procuring new tubes and elements is causing serious availability problems as the continuing use of recycled tubes is not a permanent solution. NRZ is in dire need of a foreign currency injection to keep steam going. The rumoured USD 100 million loan seems to have come to nothing." However by later in the month 525 and 613 had fallen by the wayside .... (29th October 2002).
Chas Rickwood reported (22nd August 2002) that the steam shed was much quieter on 31st July but steam still survived. Rostered were :- BEL 613, NG 515, LOCO 394, WE 416, The YM duty was in the hands of a DE 9, 525 was in steam on shed but not rostered. Compared with mid-May, 515 has now returned to service after retubing and 612 is currently out of service in the P 15 for unspecified repairs.The retube queue now consists of 4 x 15th, ie 386, 424, 406 and new addition 395.The new tubes and elements were scheduled for delivery in June but no signs of any fulfillment of this order. The tender was placed via a local agent on a South African company, but I suspect the tubes are being manufactured in Europe (Germany?)
Chas Rickwood reported after being away from home for a while (17th May 2002): "Having heard stories that the NRZ was in desperate straits and of BBR/Spoornet diesels working into Vic Falls, I feared the worst regarding the fate of steam. However, I was pleasantly surprised today to find that there had been a 25% improvement in steam availability since my last report at the beginning of April. There were 5 steam on the shunts today as against only 4 some 6 weeks ago! Today's roster was as follows:- BEL 416, YM 613, NG 612, WG 394, WE 525
The Kelvin shunt was discontinued wef 29.4.02 "until further notice". The duties are now covered by the Mpopoma 3 shunt. It seems that the BST to Cement has not seen steam for several weeks but can no doubt be arranged by special request provided that adequate notice is given. The position in the P15 shop was little changed since my last report. There is some evidence of progress with 14A # 515 as the boilers tubes are in situ, the front tank painted and painting started on the cylinders/frames. Hopefully this loco will be back in service within the next month."
Chas Rickwood reports (7th April 2002): "20th Class 740 is now back in the Museum with repair work completed following the accident at Cement. The Lions-sponsored day trip with steam to Figtree was postponed but is now scheduled for Saturday, May 25th. There have been recent press reports on the restructuring of NRZ and seems that they are having a purge on staff with some senior management posts being abolished. There have also been reports of an offshore loan of U$ 100 million to be used for necessary spares, track renovations etc. The tubes on order for 10 locos are desperately needed with the number of locos awaiting retubing continuing to increase. Only 4 steam were available on Tuesday April 2nd and were deployed as follows:- BEL 416, YM 612, NG 525, WE 394. In the retube queue were 386, 424, 515, 406 whilst 514, 519 and 613 were in the P15 area for other reasons. It is good to see the Yardmaster turn back to steam and this duty was also covering the ASH turn. I was held up as 612 shunted the Harare stock round the balloon next to the shed. 416 came charging past with a load of coal bound for Belmont. Most of the steam locos at the Museum have recently received a coat of new paint (black) and things are looking a lot smarter as a result ."
Previously he told Trevor (26th January 2002) "Good news is that the tender for new tubes and elements for 10 locos has been adjudged by the Govt Tender Board and the name(s) of the successful tenderer(s) will be announced next week. I understand that the locos involved comprise 15th class (6 locos), 16A (2); 14A (2)" He adds (16th February 2002) "613 has finally come out of the P15 after the retubing exercise. She was on the Belmont duty again on 13th Feb and seems to be performing OK. 613 has been requested for the Lions-sponsored day trip to Figtree on Sunday Feb 24th and is due to haul 10 coaches plus baggage van. This will be the first steam on the mainline (other than the Cement shuttle) since Zimfest 2001.The tender for tubes, elements etc for 10 steam locos has been awarded to Datchet Investments of Bulawayo and delivery is to be effected within 14 weeks. The tubes will be sourced from South Africa. Repair work has been completed on the accident-damaged 20th Class 740, save for brickwork on the main arch where refractories are awaited".
Kenya resident John Ashworth was here in July 2000 (added 4th September 2000). He reports: "I can confirm that Garratts are still very active in Bulawayo. I spent a whole day (7th July 2000) watching 421, 422 and 525 shunting and I got a footplate ride on 421. They tell me they are using them more now because of the fuel shortage in Zimbabwe; coal is apparently still plentiful. The locos are in dire need of maintenance. In Victoria Falls I saw Garratt 512 which does the tourist trips across the bridge to Zambia. It's idle at the moment because there are, as you say in your website, no tourists."