The International Steam Pages


21st Century steam in Zimbabwe

Since real steam ceased in South Africa and Botswana, Zimbabwe with usually just one Garratt active has offered the only real steam in Africa. For some time there has been a small pool of 'runners' which have also been used for local excursions and incoming rail tours and in recent years one of these has been hired out to the colliery at Hwange. I never tried to cover steam activity in detail but from time to time reports arrived and I added them to this site. The items from 2000 to 2009 have already been archived, the notes below cover the situation from 2010 onwards.


By early 2006, it seemed that there were 6 (potentially) active steam locomotives in Bulawayo (11th February 2006) and later additions are in brackets:

14A 519; 525
15 386; 416; 424 (395)
16A 612 (611)

By mid 2017 the list comprised:

14A 519
15A 395 and 414
16A 611 (plus 613 permanently in P45)

The amount of work they actually did varied enormously and unpredictably. If you happened to be in the area and were patient then seeing working Garratts in the 21st century had got to be rather special. Trevor Heath forwarded information on proposed 'football specials' and other excursion trains which have spurred a mini steam revival (10th May 2010) although when Ralf Mandera visited in June there was precious little sign of it (19th June 2010).

The various updates are below, however by early February 2012 there was no current 'real steam', local sources suggested that it had, in effect, finished. I heard indirectly "the shunt crews have been told they can choose between steam v. diesel traction and so they have said 'Id rather twiddle my thumbs in a DE9A cab all shift than maintain a fire and get grubby'." (17th February 2012). Indeed when steam is rostered for the West End shunt, the crews tend to turn up late for their shift, thus ensuring a diesel has to be substituted... (16th April 2012).

Trevor Heath tells me that 14A 519 will be hired out to Hwange colliery, possibly the first time a locomotive of this class has worked there. How many photographs will be taken of it at work? (6th August 2014)  After some wrangling over the contract, it finally arrived in mid-October 2014 (16th October 2014), however, it had yet to start work by early November owing to a labour dispute (10th November 2014). The next report suggested it had returned to Bulawayo and been replaced by 15A 414, (15th November 2014). Hwange Colliery is now being worked by Portuguese Company Mota Engill on behalf of the cash strapped Hwange Colliery Company. 519 had returned to Hwange by mid-December 2014 and it was seen shunting on 18th December 2014 (22nd December 2014). By 18th January 2015, they had swapped again (19th January 2015). Over the next few months expect to see the two Garratts working turn and turn about returning to Bulawayo for servicing (31st December 2014)

414 was undergoing some repairs in the P15 shop in mid-January 2015 and is earmarked to go to Harare second week of February so it can work two public trains to Ruwa, plus a charter to Lochinvar (19th January 2015). Robin Taylor reports that trains were run on 14th/15th/22nd February as planned and that 414 performed impeccably (5th March 2015). 395 was in Harare for the Father's Day special on 21st June 2015 and 414 is currently at Hwange. Of the other two 'runners' 519 is alive and well on shed in Bulawayo and 613 is waiting tubes (all this 23rd June 2015). By 20th July 2015 was still at Hwange possibly because 519 was under repair (28th July 2015).

Chas Rickwood reports (8th May 2014) that 15A 414 worked a test trip to FigTree and that it (or 14A 519) would work the upcoming Mothers' Day special to the same destination. In the event (23rd May 2014) it was 414 which performed impeccably on the run to Figtree and back. Departure was on time at 10.00 and after a stop at Khami, arrival at Figtree was at 11.10, some 50 minutes before the schedule. A braai lunch was enjoyed at the Redwood facility...this took a bit longer than expected but the patrons enjoyed relaxing in the summery weather and nobody was concerned about getting back to Bulawayo a bit later than expected...this being after a runpast at the Bellevue flyover. NRZ have now run 4 local day excursions this year, each behind a different loco, ie:- 395, 414, 519 and 613. (This marks a significant reversal of fortunes in the last year or so. RD) This was followed up with a second successful excursion from Bulalwayo to Figtree hauled by 414 on 1st June 2014 (2nd June 2014). I have now put some of the Railway Museum's pictures of these on this site (16th June 2014).

Chas Rickwood reports (7th April 2014) a small revival with 15As 395 and 414 active as well as 14A 519 and 16A 613, the last of these ran a successful second excursion between Harare and Ruwa on Sunday, 13th April 2014 (17th April 2014). Tickets sold so well that an extra coach was attached and discreet rear diesel assistance provided on occasions although the train again ran rather late - read Robin Taylor's report (20th April 2014)

Nigel Petre reports from his February 2014 visit, 395 and 519 are definitely runners and 414 under active repair (17th March 2014).There was a steam excursion from Harare on 13th February, the first steam there since 1978  - read Robin Taylor's report (20th April 2014) 

For some time 395 and 613 were the only two serviceable locos, having been used for a tour group in May 2013. They have now nominally been joined by 414 which has emerged form P15 after some years (25th May 2013).

Early 2013 has seen two special workings. On Sunday 17th February 2013, 395 worked another Valentine's Day special to Khami Siding although there were problems with the braking on one coach. Even more special was 613 working a special from Cement Siding near Bulawayo to the Colleen Bawn cement facility on Saturday 2nd March 2013, this to commemorate 100 years of Portland Cement in the country (Mike Taylor via Trevor Heath, 12th March 2013).

A visit found 613 being prepared for a Valentine's Day special to Sawmills, for which 395 for reserve although it was still suffering from foaming problems during its last steaming (in the event it was 395 which hauled the very successful train). With unpaid wages and no work being done on restoration of other locos, it must be likely that they will be 'saved' for special workings (8th February 2012), which will themselves not survive much longer.

Mike Taylor reported on the situation on 1st October 2010 "Three locos in steam, 613 rostered shed loco was hauling 416 - also in steam out of the P15 to shed. 416 had been undergoing maintenance. 525 was at the coaling tower before departing for the West End shunt. Coal supplies are available. 395 was towed to Vic Falls last week, where she was put into steam. Then used to take a dining car and observation coach onto the Falls bridge for "sundowners" as part of a Tourist publicity conference / campaign. All went well and 395 is back in P15 for boiler washout - looking quite smart. 611 and 414 were also in P15. 612 - completely dismantled - has been removed out of refurbishment. Looks as if refurbishment has come to a halt. Steam crane and associated rolling stock being prepared for trip to Mutare to recover some derailed wagons. No obvious activity in P15. Appears apprentice- type labour used for pre- Safari servicing has been allocated to main workshops. Seven senior staff due to go on pension this month." (added 3rd October 2010). Chas Rickwood adds of 3rd October 2010 "14A Garratt No 525 had been on the West End shunt earlier in the day and was back on shed for fire cleaning...also in light steam was 15th class No 416. The two active 16As, Nos 611 and 613 were both in the washout section of the P15 shop. 15th class No 395 was dead on shed having returned from last weekend's trip up to Vic Falls. The 15th class went dead up to the Falls (and back) because of the fire risk...it was lit up there and worked the Rail Leisure trip down to the Falls bridge. This trip was advertised to the public with accommodation from Byo to the Falls and return on the normal passenger train . In the event there were few (if any) fare paying passengers and the promotion was supported by NRZ and ZTA (Zimbabwe Tourist Authority) plus some politicos who were invited along. All credit though to NRZ for persevering with their Rail Leisure programme which helps to keep steam alive...they are planning a couple of local steam excursions once the rains come and the fire risk is reduced." (added 8th October 2010).

Steam continued to be used on the West End and loco shunts into November 2010 (23rd December 2010). On a typical day, 613 was doing the WE duty and 416 shunting coal wagons around the loco area. Of the remainder of the working fleet, 611 and 395 were on the washout road and 525 under repairs in the P15 shop. NRZ ran a steam trip to Plumtree on 12th December 2010 with 395 connected to a train consisting of water tanker, caboose, 4 wagons with a total of 150 tonnes of cement - to be dropped off at Plumtree - for Botswana delivery - 2 dining cars and three 1st class Museum coaches, observation car 754 and composite guards van 2602, combined with a white painted coach previously used for surgical eye procedures around the country. The outward trip went well but a nut came off the motion on the return and a diesel had to be summoned to rescue the train but return was not too late. Thanks to Trevor Heath and regular Zim reporters for this.

Chas Rickwood reports (21st March 2011) that just three shunts are still scheduled for steam - West End, Belmont and a Mpopoma turn. Part of this is accounted for by the railways loss of traffic to road services. Latest news from Chas Rickwood - "2012 finds steam alive and well in Bulawayo with two locos in steam at the shed this afternoon. 611 has been the regular loco recently on the West End shunt and the other loco in steam today was a bit of a surprise, being 14A No 519. This loco is in fact an amalgam of 519 and 525, being the frame of 525 with 519's boiler and renumbered as 519. This loco has been undergoing steam test and may well do a turn on the WE shunt later in the week." (3rd January 2012)

Click for full size image. Click for full size image. Nigel Petre visited Bulawayo shed on 11th December 2012. He was delighted to find 16A 613 in steam but it had disgraced itself by getting derailed. In any case, there was no work for it as the crews are still refusing to operate steam for routine turns. 15A 395 was being prepared for a Christmas special. Also present and in steam was one of the steam cranes although he did not note its identity (7th January 2013). Chris Capewell confirms it will have been MXU 100 036 (Klockner Demag-Gottwald 1123-1124? / 1962), (8th January 2013). Dave Habraken was in Bulayawayo in July 2016 and was lucky enough to find 15A active on a test run (16th August 2016)


Rob Dickinson

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