Geoffs trains tours
dumped in the north of the country over 30 years ago was another reason to plan this trip.

The Mulobezi Railway

Completed in 1931, this line was a part of the private Zambesi Sawmills Railway (ZSR) network. The purpose
was the transport of timber, cut from the rich forests to the north and west of Livingstone. Railway sleepers for
the Rhodesia Railways (RR) were a speciality. The workshops and running shed of the ZSR were located in
Livingstone, they have become
the railway museum. The main line to Mulobezi exists, but all of the branches
were lifted in the beginning of the seventies. In January 1973, after the Zambezi Sawmills closed, the line was
taken over by Zambia Railways. The sawmill in Mulobezi finally shut down around 1994. The people of this
small town were faced with the choice of moving or looking for another living. The responsibility for these
people is the reason why the government, through ZR, still provides a weeky mixed train to Mulobezi. The
Investor who is now running the line to the copperbelt did not wish to become involved with the rail service to
this rural part of the country. There is no direct road from Livingstone to Mulobezi and the indirect way is
mostly unpaved and impassable during rains. A stoppage of the rail service would be disastrous for the local
people. The railway is the nerve centre of the region, as can be seen by anyone riding on the train to Mulobezi.

“The train to Mulobezi should depart every Wednesday at 8 am.“, said the Livingstone Station Master on the
phone. He did not want to talk about other details, like arrival time in Mulobezi or the return in Livingstone.
Usually the train arrives back at the end of one week, barring serious problems. Fitted out with these little gems
of information before leaving Germany, we started our adventure. The tour started in Bulawayo on the Victoria
Falls train at the end of May 2006. The two man expedition was completed by Graham, a Zimbabwean friend,
who had never been to Zambia before.

After arrival in Livingstone the railway museum was the first item on the agenda. About twenty steam
locomotives of the former RR and ZSR are displayed in an extensive area in superficially good condition. I did
not visit to the RSZ loco shed because I did not expect to find any steam locomotives there, they were all
scrapped or sent to the museum around 1995. On a visit in 1994 I saw many dumped Garratts and 12th class
engines in the shed yard. The Area Manager of Livingstone told me that nowadays there is only one steam
locomotive is left. It is proposed to put it up as a monument in front of the railway station. Unfortunately I could
not find out the running or builders number. (12th Class # 204. Ed).

Right in time, some minutes to 8am, one European and one Zimbabwean traveller turned up at Livingstone
station, loaded with water and canned food for one week, to be on the safe side. The ticket to Mulobezi can
not be purchased at the ticket office in the main building, where one can only get tickets towards Ndola. To
buy a ticket for the Mulobezi train, you visit a small building in the station forecourt, where the office of the
Mulobezi railway is located. The fare for a single trip to Mulobezi, 163 km away, is 18.000 Kwacha, nearly 5

Sammy, the Train Manager, was very sorry to tell us that the train would not depart in time. The only platform
was still blocked by a RSZ train, which had arrived from Ndola in the night. He could not say when the coaches
would be removed so that our train could be accommodated. Indeed, it was only at 1 pm. that our train found
the line to Mulobezi after a short shunt in the Victoria Falls direction. This was necessary because the line
branches off from a headshunt in the opposite direction to the station. All trains to Mulobezi leave Livingstone
Station backwards.

The arrangement of the train was very interesting: A U15C type diesel loco (No. 02-311), build by General
Electric, three quite battered economy coaches ex ZR, one staff coach, a snack car, a tank wagon for water
and plenty of mostly empty wagons for freight and cattle. The crew of the train was remarkable as well. Two
drivers, a train manager, two conductors, one freight conductor with some helpers, a chef plus assistants, two
railway policemen with submachine-guns, three wagon examiners and three permanent way workers. Not
counted were persons belonging to the train, but who could not to be identified.  

The first stop of the train was only a few kilometres outside of Livingstone at “Sawmills”. This compound was
erected by the Zambesi Sawmills Company for its employees. At this stop all available standing room was
occupied and the train got really packed. At a snail’s pace the ride continued through the typical bush
landscape of the southern Africa. The milestones helped to calculate the speed, which did not exceed 15
km/h most of the time. On the way to Mulobezi the train gets emptier stop by stop as the people who went to
Livingstone to sell their goods, mostly charcoal and livestock, arrived home. Some stops where made to
provide the rural population with water from the tank wagon. They were waiting for the train with empty
containers to fill up with the essential stuff and to carry home by ox teams. This is another reason to keep the
weekly train running despite the ailing infrastructure.

Time was running faster than the train, and soon we had to prepare for the night. Fortunately we were
equipped by woollen blankets, which we wisely bought in Bulawayo before the trip to Victoria Falls (for 5.3
Million Zimbabwe dollars each). The NRZ did not offer bedding even in first class. On the Mulobezi train the
blankets were double helpful. The slowly swinging coaches sent me to sleep promptly and I missed the
crossing of the Ngwesi River on the new bridge, more than 100 meters long and about 10 meters high. I made
the same mistake on the way back to Livingstone. In the morning I noticed that the train wad grown by two
wagons in front of the locomotive: a truck with timber and a cattle wagon. Obviously both were picked up by
the train along the main line during night. Sammy told me that the empty coaches were left on the line on the
way to Livingstone to be loaded prior to the return of the train. Because there are no sidings except at Ngwesi,
the coaches had to be pushed to Mulobezi.

I should comment on the snack car, which was not at all expected. The lively chef offered grilled chicken with
rice or nshima, the Zambian counterpart to the Zimbabwean sadza. Beside that we purchased some crisps,
Cola, Fanta and of course, Chibuku. This stuff was sold tot by tot from a big container, not packed in cardboard
boxes. On the way back the menu changed from grilled to boiled chicken in recognition of the toughness of
the rural type of bird bought in Mulobezi. Most of our tinned food was not needed.

On Thursday at around 12 pm. we arrived at Mulobezi station. The remains of the former sawmill systems let us
know how busy the place once was. Today the area seems to be in a state of hibernation. Three steam locos
are rusting at the station, waiting for the opening of a museum, I was told. Let’s see what will come of that!
Three other more or less complete engines are dumped in the high grass some hundred meters outside of the
station yard at the former line to Lonze forest. All of those locos were bought second-hand from Rhodesia
Railways or South African Railways.

Surprisingly it was not a problem to find accommodation in Mulobezi. There is a guest house not far away from
the railway station so there was no need for another night on the train. Certainly there is no electricity and no
running water and only one toilet of African style for the entire establishment, but everyone tried hard to give
every possible comfort to the European stranger. And a candlelight dinner of corned beef and canned tuna
fish can be very romantically.

The next day we were back at the station very early. The departure of the train back to Livingstone was
scheduled for 8 am. and we did not wish to be left behind. Our U15C was already on the train, turned as if by
magic with the cab in front. The triangle of Mulobezi seems still to be serviceable. In Zambia the turning of
locomotives is done by triangles. As far as I know only on turntable exists, in Kapiri Mposhi and owned by

We left nearly on schedule around 9 am. Most of the cattle wagons were now occupied by four-legged
passengers, some of the freight cars were loaded with bags of charcoal and the timber was behind the loco
and not in front as on the way there. This was particularly favourable to the locomotive drivers who watched
the condition of the line during the trip like hawks to stop the train before any derailment. Four whistles sent the
track workers out of their compartment or the snack-car to repair the line. This racket was repeated several
times, day and night. We stopped often for bags of charcoal to be loaded into the wagons. The production of
charcoal seems to be the main business in the area around Mulobezi after forestry has nearly completed
closed down.  

In the late evening we finally witnessed the event we had expected on the way to Mulobezi, a derailment. One
bogie on a cattle wagon derailed. However, the staff in the carboose at the rear stopped the train by the
operational (!) emergency brake and because of the low speed, there was no major damage of the permanent
way. The track workers appeared straight away with re-railing ramps, similar to those used on a model railway,
and put them behind the derailed bogie. After a hand signal the locomotive driver shunted the train slowly
backwards and in less than 15 minutes after the derailment the train was back on the track and the drive went
on. Unfortunately I could not take photos of the procedure, dusk was already setting in.

After a second night on the train and a cosy trip through the African morning we arrived at Sawmills around 11
am. The train emptied suddenly and the friendly conductor gave us the advice to leave here, too. It could take
hours until the signalman at Livingstone station give us right of way to the platform track, the RSZ has priority.
We managed to get hold of a taxi to the hotel and only after checking in, the desired shower and a first Mosi
Lager at the hotel bar did we hear the whistle of the Mulobezi train arriving at Livingstone station - the
conductor turned out to be exactly right. An adventurous journey along the African bush came to a good end
for all those involved.

A Train Journey in Zambia in 2006
By Dietmar Fiedel
from the tank waggon at Situmpa, 25.05.06. In front
of the locos one can see the timber- and cattle
waggons, mentioned in the essay.
After arrival in Mulobezi, 25.05.06
Loco 10-155 (ex ZSR), North British 27798/1922 in
Mulobezi, 25.05.
same place
Loco 8-75 (ex ZSR), North British 19358/1910,
Mulobezi station, 25.05.06
Loco 10-154, North British 27797/1922 and 7A-992,
Sharp Stewart 4149/1896 (both ex ZSR), Mulobezi.
Livingstone – Mulobezi stopping at Livingstone-