The International Steam Pages

Steam Returns to Harare, 2014

Robin Taylor reports on two interesting excursions on 13th February and 13th April 2014.

The last live steam locomotive seen in Harare operated on a special train in May 1978.

Thursday 13th February 2014 was therefore a historic day when National Railways of Zimbabwe ran a steam hauled Valentine Sundowner Special from Harare to Ruwa Country Club.

The train consisted of the following:-

Locomotive Beyer Garratt number 395.
Water Tanker 468-67
Bulawayo Steam Shed Breakdown Coach number 1819
Dining Car 660 Dining portion of the twin diner “Chimanimani”
Dining Car 688 City of Harare
Coach 1078 Service entry 1951
Coach 1090 Service entry 1951
Coach 1097 Service entry 1951
Twin diner 666/667 “Zambesi” Service entry 1957
Baggage Van 269

The special train was a N.R.Z. initiative and advertised through the History Society of Zimbabwe. Within a week 164 passengers purchased tickets.

Promptly at 16.00 the train pulled out of Harare station. Its presence at the station created considerable interest and a big crowd had gathered to witness the departure. The station entrance and platform had been given a special wash and polish for the occasion and passengers were greeted at a reception desk by friendly staff who handed them an itinerary and short historical fact sheet. Traditional music and a dance troupe added to the welcome and air of excitement.

The train made good progress at first but had to stop on the climb to Msasa to build up steam. This stop by the Mukuvisi Woodlands took twenty minutes and unfortunately the long grass prevented us from seeing the game one can normally expect to observe in the woodlands.

A stop was made at Msasa and we arrived at Mabvuku at 17.35. A photographic stop had been scheduled for Mabvuku but in view of the time already lost it was decided to abandon this idea. We departed Mabvuku at 18.07 and after a stop at Ruwa arrived at the boundary of Ruwa Country Club at 18.20, an hour behind schedule.

Special portable steps had been provided and passengers detrained to cross a newly built bridge over the trackside drains. Old conveyor belting had been laid along what would have been a very wet path across the Railway reserve. It was then on to the golf course and along the fairways to the Club house. N.R.Z. had provided a small bus for those unable to walk the distance. I found it a very pleasant walk in the late afternoon. At the club we were welcomed by club management and then settled down to an open air buffet dinner.

Mr Ken Lunga, the Train Manager, spoke briefly and the writer gave a short presentation on the history of the line, the locomotive and old vehicles on the train. Mr M. Masaga, Head of N.R.Z. Rail Leisure also spoke about the achievements of Rail Leisure to date and his future intentions.

After everyone had been well wined and dined we were asked to proceed back to the track. It was a warm moonlight evening which provided a pleasant even romantic atmosphere for the walk back to the train. When we arrived we found the train had disappeared. After a long wait two DE 10 locomotives came past heading towards Melfort. Much later we heard the train had gone to Melfort to enable 395 to run round and the DE 10s had subsequently been called to rescue the entire train. This process seemed to take a very long time and some passengers lay down on the tee box and went sound asleep. In due course we heard the growl of the diesels in the distance. Harare has had a lot of rain in recent weeks but fortunately it remained dry and clear for our outing.

The train hauled by DE 10s numbers 1017 and 1009 finally departed the temporary club “Siding” at 23.00 hours some two and half hours later than intended. A short stop was made at Mabvuku for a lady who had left her car at this siding to detrain and arrival in Harare was exactly at midnight.

National Railways are to be congratulated on this initiative and for the excellent arrangements. The dining cars were appropriately decorated for the occasion and lady passengers given red roses and chocolates. Staff made us very welcome. Train Manager Ken Lunga and his team did an excellent job and cannot be blamed for the delays caused by the failures of locomotive 395. It’s unfortunate that the prearranged diesel backup took a long time to materialise. Hopefully this was the first of similar outings in the future. I certainly think a market exists for this kind of activity in Harare.

Sunday 13th April 2014 was advertised by National Railways of Zimbabwe as a Family Fun Day at Ruwa Country Club with travel from Harare to Ruwa and return by steam train. Bookings for the train were made at a fast pace and by mid-morning on the preceding Tuesday the train was fully booked. In view of the demand it was decided to add Standard class coach number 5009 which enabled another eighty passengers to be booked on the train. This meant that 295 passengers of whom 90 were children under 12 years of age arrived at Harare station and boarded the special steam hauled train. Passengers were welcomed by the staff of NRZ and shown to their seats and the excitement was infectious.

The train consisted of the following;

Locomotive 16A Beyer Garratt number 613
Two water tankers
Locomotive fitter’s service coach
Standard coach 5009. Entered service 1998.
Dining car 603
Twin diner 668/669 Zimbabwe
Coaches 1090 and 1097 Entered service 1953
Coach 4107 which had all original seating removed and replaced by lounge furniture.
Twin diner 666/667 Zambezi
Baggage / generator van 269

Departure time was scheduled for 10.00 but our locomotive which had been on the platform earlier in the morning was out of sight. Eventually it arrived from the west end of the railway complex and after some shunting with the water tankers coupled on to the train. Departure from Harare station was finally at 11.57. Some of the passengers did become restive especially those with young children. I personally have no information on the cause of the delay which did not reflect well on the organisation. Once underway the train went well and we arrived at Msasa at 12.07, some lucky passengers observed Giraffe in the Mukuvisi Woodlands as we passed. Departure from Msasa was at 12.25 and arrival at Mabvuku 12.36 for 32 minute stop during which a number of passengers took a walk to view the locomotive at close quarters. At this stage some small boys were seen climbing in the coal bunker no doubt to receive a few words from their mothers later! We arrived at Ruwa at 13.22 for a ten minute stop and finally arrived at the informal Ruwa Club Halt at 13.40. On the way to and from our destination DE10 locomotive 1009 gave some gentle banking assistance up the steeper gradients.

The Ruwa Country Club provided a braai lunch in a relaxed atmosphere under the shady trees while the children enjoyed a jumping castle and informal games of rugby soon started.

After the meal we made our way back along the golf course and found the train waiting. The steam locomotive was again at the head of the train with the coal bunker leading and the DE10 at the rear ready to provide an extra bit of power. Departure took place at 17.23 with passengers possibly in a more reflected mood as we headed towards Harare into the gathering dusk. A short stop was made at Ruwa and we passed Mabvuku at 17.50 arriving at Msasa at 18.06 for four minute stop. Final arrival back in Harare was at 18.25 about an hour and a half later than the original schedule.

National Railways of Zimbabwe are to be once again congratulated on arranging these steam excursions which judging by the rush for tickets are proving popular. They are well organised with the staff friendly and welcoming. However the reliability of the locomotives used needs attention if the long delays experienced are to be avoided in future. Another great day out behind steam in the Harare area.

Rob Dickinson