National Railways of Zimbabwe

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National Railways of Zimbabwe
Industry Rail transport
Predecessor Rhodesia Railways (RR)
Founded 1980
Headquarters Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Key people
Mike Karakadzai, general manager
Products Rail transport, Cargo transport, Services
Owner Republic of Zimbabwe (100%)
Number of employees
7,543 (2008)[1]
Slogan Engine for Economic Growth

The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is the parastatal railway of Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean railway system was largely constructed during the time of British colonial rule, and part of it represents a segment of the Cape to Cairo Railway[citation needed]. Until 1980 it was called Rhodesia Railways (RR).

Rhodesia Railways[edit]

In the colonial era, Rhodesia Railways was the state railway operator in both Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Although Zambia gained independence in 1964, it was not until 1967 that Rhodesia Railways surrendered the 1,300 km (810 miles) of route and 80–90 locomotives to Zambia Railways.[2]

Rhodesia Railways steam locomotive allocation, 1 June 1975[2]
Bulawayo Gwelo Total
12th class (4-8-2) 5 1 6
14A class (2-6-2+2-6-2) 7 6 13
15th class (4-6-4+4-6-4) 52 0 52
16A class (2-8-2+2-8-2) 8 9 17
19th class (4-8-2) 3 0 3
20th class (4-8-2+2-8-4) 18 0 18
Total 93 16 109

Rhodesia Railways was a heavy user of the Garratt locomotive. In June 1976, 100 of its 109 locomotives were Garratts. For operational purposes, Rhodesia Railways was divided into two areas: those lines north-east of Gwelo (now Gweru) fell into the Eastern Area, with all other lines in the Southern Area.[3]


Opening of the railroad to Umtali in 1899

NRZ operates about 3,400 km (2,100 miles) of railway lines, all of 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) providing passenger and freight services. The gauge is standard for all of southern Africa. NRZ has an important transit function in the southern part of Africa and is well linked with neighboring countries: toward the north, at Victoria Falls the system links to the Zambia Railways, crossing the Victoria Falls Bridge. Toward the Indian ocean the system links to the Beira Railroad Corporation in Mozambique. A second line toward Mozambique reaches Maputo. To the west, a connecting line link ups to Botswana Railways to reach South Africa, eventually reaching Durban and Cape Town. A direct line to South Africa from Bulawayo was opened in 1999 by the Beitbridge Bulawayo Railway. The 313 km (194-mile) Gweru-Harare section is electrified at 25 kV AC.


Steam locomotives are still used in Zimbabwe; they have proven so popular with tourists that there are plans to refurbish several more steam locomotives.[4] However, funding is constrained, and diesel-hauled freight transport is a higher priority.[5]


The NRZ has also suffered of the general decline of the country's economy. Neglect of maintenance, lacking spare parts and overdue replacement of equipment have led to a situation were only part of the railroad net is in good condition and equipment problems have led to reduced service. Steam locomotives have been reintroduced since 2004 as coal is in relatively good supply, while diesel must be imported and electricity shortages are common. Further, the company is seriously indebted, making it impossible to solve this situation without external help.[6] Goods transport has declined, from 18 million tonnes in 1998 to 2 million tonnes in 2010.[7]

Major accidents[edit]

Major lines and stations[edit]

Line Stations Notes
Victoria Falls – Bulawayo Link from Victoria Falls to Zambia Railways, Zambia
Bulawayo – Harare Link from Chicualacuala to Maputo, Mozambique
Bulawayo – Francistown Part of the line is in Botswana

Connects further to Mafeking, South Africa In 1911 Rhodesia Railways was granted a special agreement to preserve its rights of access under the Tati Concessions Land Act, which formally annexed a former territory of Matabeleland, an area including Francistown, to the Bechuanaland Protectorate (modern Botswana).

Harare – Shamva/Kildonan/Zawi
Harare – Mutare Link from Mutare to Beira Railroad Corporation, Mozambique
Beitbridge Bulawayo Railway
(privately owned)
Connects to Beitbridge, South Africa.

The privately owned Beitbridge Bulawayo Railway (BBR) provides a direct rail link to South Africa. This railway was opened in 1999 and will become part of the NRZ after 30 years.


Steam locomotives of different classes at the museum area (1990)

The Zimbabwe National Railways Museum is in Bulawayo; it has a selection of locomotives, railway carriages and other interesting things. One of the exhibits is a Rhodesia Railways class DE2 diesel locomotive.

Well known employees (past and present)[edit]

Some real characters who were known throughout the system were employed with the Rhodesia Railways. Be it footplate staff, guard, shunter, way and works or administrative staff each of them was a rail men and made the railways what it was. Most of them have now passed on but there are still some very much alive. If only they would tell their stories. Some years ago someone mentioned that a Mr Nyenhuis (Senior Locomotive Inspector) had written a book about his years on the footplate.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Railway Union Reports (by: International Transport Workers' Federation):The restructuring and privatisation of the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) . Issue 6 - July 2008
  2. ^ a b Turk 1976, p. 76
  3. ^ Turk 1976, pp. 76–77
  4. ^ "REFURBISHING FOR MORE ZIM STEAM LOCOS". Railways Africa. Retrieved 9 November 2010. 
  5. ^ "BULAWAYO STEAM". Railways Africa. 12 December 2010. Retrieved 12 December 2010. 
  6. ^ Africa Zimbabwean trains held in China over debt. 6 December 2010.
  7. ^ "NRZ FREIGHT STATS PLUMMET". Railways Africa. Retrieved 19 February 2011. 
  8. ^ "Victoria Falls train crash claims five lives". ZimObserverNews. 28 August 2006. Retrieved 18 September 2006. 
  9. ^ BBC News: 40 die in Zimbabwe train crash. 2 February 2003

Further reading[edit]

  • Durrant, A E (1997). The Smoke that Thunders. Harare: African Pub. Group. ISBN 1779011342. 
  • Hamer, Edward D (1983). Steam locomotives of Rhodesia Railways: the story of steam 1892-1979. Malmö: Stenvalls. ISBN 9172660775. 
  • Hamer, Edward D (2001). Locomotives of Zimbabwe and Botswana. Malmö: Stenvalls. ISBN 9172661526. 
  • Robinson, Neil (2009). World Rail Atlas and Historical Summary. Volume 7: North, East and Central Africa. Barnsley, UK: World Rail Atlas Ltd. ISBN 978-954-92184-3-5. 
  • Turk, Andrew (February 1976). "Garratts Galore". Railway World (Shepperton, Surrey: Ian Allan): pp. 76–78. 

External links[edit]