The International Steam Pages
Steam in Zimbabwe and Zambia, 2018/9
Dave Hallett reported on a visit to NRZ Workshops on 8th June and Bulawayo Steam Shed visit on various dates between then and 27th June and subsequent updates. At the end is a summary of the situation in Livingstone / Victoria Falls. There is a 2023 update available (17th July 2023).
Dave has provided a further update to the situation (uploaded 2nd May 2019).
The current status of steam loco activity is as follows:
15th class 395 is as reported in October 2018; it is awaiting repairs to the wheel drop so that a wheelset can be replaced in the front power unit.
14A class 519 is operational.
16A no. 611 is due to be retubed, the loco is currently jacked up with the rear power unit withdrawn.
16A no. 613 which had returned from the Mechanical Engineers workshop in October 2018 after a boiler retube has seen limited progress with the re-assembly of superheater header and steam pipes.
15th class no. 417 which was cosmetically restored and adopted the guise of 411 is now at Gweru awaiting transfer to Masvingo for static display.
20A class no. 740. Rumours persist within the ME's workshop and elsewhere that this loco, which has been the stationary boiler at the workshops for many years, may be restored to running order for use on safari trains. It is considered to have a sound boiler.
14A no. 512 at Victoria Falls. Visitors to Victoria Falls may notice this loco parked in the headshunt adjacent to the Livingstone Way road/rail crossing in the town. The firebox has been condemned and the operator (Bushtracks) is arranging transfer of 516 (which has a good boiler) from the Bulawayo Railway Museum to Livingstone so that missing parts can be donated by 512 to enable 516 to return to service.
Dave has provided a further update to the situation (uploaded 10th October 2018).
A visit to the steam shed and P15 shed in Bulawayo on 4th October 2018 revealed the following status of steam locos.
Class 15A no. 395 has been retubed and is undergoing some work on the power units.
Class 15A no. 414 is operational and is earmarked for a Family Fun Day Steam Special to Plumtree on Sunday 25th November 2018.
Class 15A no. 417 as previously reported has assumed the identity of 411 and has been cosmetically restored and painted and is stabled in the steam shed awaiting haulage to Masvingo for mounting on the grassed circle in front of the station building there. It is to commemorate the bombing of a train there (supposedly hauled by 411) by dissidents in 1964 led by the current president Emerson Mnangagwa. It is historically incorrect as the cab plates that have been specially cast identify it as a National Railways of Zimbabwe loco; NRZ did not exist at that time!
Class 15A no. 416 as previously reported (June 2018) was being considered for retubing and eventual return to service and has had the front tank removed in preparation for this work.
Class 14A no. 519 is currently on hire to Hwange Colliery; its operational status is unknown.
Class 16A no. 613 has been retubed in the Mechanical Workshops and was hauled back to the steam shed on the day of the visit for reassembly.
Class 16A no. 611 is now inside the P15 shed and is being prepared for retubing.
As previously reported 525 and 604 had been moved from the shed area to the P15 shed with a view to eventual restoration to running order. At this time there is no further progress.
The ownership issues surrounding 14A no. 516 which is currently stored at the Railway Museum in Bulawayo appear to have been resolved and an assessment has been carried out prior to moving the loco to the Bushtracks Africa operation in Livingstone Zambia, where it will donate its boiler to sister loco no. 512. Staff from Bushtracks are expected to fit any parts required and prepare for haulage. However the current economic climate in Zimbabwe which is deteriorating daily with fuel and food shortages and rapidly spiralling inflation is likely to prevent that happening in the immediate future.
As has previously been reported there are notionally 4 locos in serviceable condition, namely 14A no. 519, 15A nos. 395 and 414, and 16A no. 611. Annual visits since 2014 have shown little activity other than keeping these few locos operational, although 613 has been parked in the P15 shed undergoing a protracted boiler retube since 2014. However it has recently been moved to the NRZ MEs Workshop where it was observed as having been retubed on 08/06. It is understood that this work was moved to the Workshop to ease the workload on the Shed staff who have completed the retube of 15A no. 395 in the P15 shed. 395 was noted as sitting on the front power unit ex no. 414 which had suffered a crank pin failure.
16A no. 611 was also recently taken out of service to retube the boiler and the Klockner Demag-Gottwald Steam crane was used to remove the front tank and rear bunker. However at this time it was noted that there was an issue with the boiler cradle and the staff there initially thought it was unlikely to be repaired, leading to (erroneous) reports on social media that 611 would be scrapped. On my last visit (27/06) I was advised that the loco would not be scrapped and replacement parts obtained from the dump. (It should be remembered that most of the surviving locos are made up from an assortment of parts from others and it is difficult if not impossible to determine their true identities.
At the time of my visit on 8th June loco no. 414 was on hire to Hwange Colliery, although it had not worked since arriving there in May. 14A no. 519 was earmarked for the FarRail tour commencing on Friday 15th June with a run to Cement and back. It successfully completed a test run there on 13/06.
On my first visit to Bulawayo shed on 8th June staff were noted as working on 15A no. 417 in the steam shed. Subsequently the loco was moved to the P15 shed on 11/06 and work continues to the present time on this loco fitting parts that have been removed in the past. It is understood that 417 is to be cosmetically restored and re-numbered as 411 and plinthed at Masvingo. I understand that the current Zimbabwean President had a hand in blowing up the real 411 in the Masvingo area during the Bush War and had asked for this as some kind of memorial.
At the same time that 417 was moved to the P15 shed 14A no. 525 was also moved there along with 604. I am informed that both locos could be restored to running order. In addition no. 416 which has sat in the P15 shed for many years could be the next in line for returning to service.
The FarRail tour commenced on 15th June with a run to Cement with 519, and moved to Thomson Junction where 15A no. 414 was due to run to Old Hwange Station on 17th June. However after a few false starts at TJ early in the morning the loco was retired with a safety valve failing to shut off and returned to the colliery shed. 519 which was there was used to complete a number of run pasts on the original Hwange line for the rest of the day. On 18th June no. 414 had been repaired and it fulfilled all the duties required on the route between TJ and Victoria Falls, culminating in a number of moves across the Victoria Falls bridge on 20th/21st June. It was subsequently returned to the colliery to take up duties there, at this time 519 was reported as having a problem with the front power unit valve gear, later noted as being a broken expansion link bracket on the LHS.
In summary, the state of play with locos as of 27th June was as follows:
While it is easy to be upbeat about this news it should be treated with caution, although it is thought there is a dawning realisation within NRZ hierarchy that there is a lucrative market for some sort of steam operation on safari trains and excursions. I will return to the country in September and advise accordingly any changes.
Meanwhile on the Zambian side of things, here is an update on steam locos in Victoria Falls/Livingstone.