NRZ 121 years on…

NRZ 121 years on…
By John Batwell
At the time, imperialist Cecil John Rhodes commented “the railway is my hand” since railways ranked high in his vision for opening up and developing the interior of the African continent. The arrival of the railway in Bulawayo led to the newspaper the Chronicle getting carried away – “Today is the parting of the ways for Matabeleland, the relegation of the old method of transport to the past and the beginning of civilisation in its entirety….”.

It had been four years since Dr Jameson’s Column had hoisted the flag on that wild syringa tree in the contemporary suburb of Sauerstown, marking the occupation of Lobengula’s capital and marking the birth of the Bulawayo of today. It was declared a town on 4 November 1893 and the trains began running in 1897. Editorial comment in October 1897 in the Bulawayo Chronicle said, “Bulawayo has been waiting for the railway like the Australian farmer waits for rain which shall bring him prosperity.”

Ox wagon transport from the South had virtually stopped owing to the rinderpest; freight charges to Mafeking were up two hundred pounds a ton; and the time it took consignments to reach Bulawayo roused the local merchants to great heights of fury. The early development of the territory took place at the pace of the ox. A fully-laden wagon
carrying over three-and-a-half tonnes ground and bumped its way over the rough transport road at little more than three kilometres an hour for some eight hours a day so at such a ponderous pace the almost 800km took a very long time.
Passenger travel beyond Mafeking was by coach conveying 12 passengers and mail but as Bulawayo quickly grew into an important distribution centre as gold mining camps and other settlements sprang up in the area, the extension of the railway from Mafeking was becoming imperative. The northward thrust from Mafeking, where the railway from Vryburg had reached in October 1894, got off to a slow start. At that time, Bulawayo was receiving more than two thousand heavy wagons a year from the south.

A passenger on the mail coach reported counting over a hundred wagons on the road between Palapye in Bechuanaland and Bulawayo alone. Such was the urgency for the rail connection to Bulawayo that the final 18 months of construction, despite problems including water shortages, was laid at the remarkable rate of a mile day, 640km in 400 days! As a result, the railway was in part laid directly on the ground with little or no ballast. Such
was the haste that the surveyors were often only a day or two ahead of the construction gangs and the route took the line of least resistance.

The development of the railways in Zimbabwe was directed essentially by the need to serve the towns, mines and farms which were fast being established and ultimately to link the landlocked country with sea ports. The link between Salisbury (Harare) and Bulawayo was completed in October 1902 and Salisbury was also, by now, connected to the Indian Ocean at Beira by rail. The line had arrived in Salisbury from Beira in May 1899. Rhodes had said, “We are bound, and I have made up my mind, to go on without delay. Let us see it [the railway] on the Zambezi in our lifetime.” It happened but not for Rhodes to observe personally as he died in 1902. The construction north-west from Bulawayo began in 1903, crossing the Zambezi River at Victoria Falls in September 1905 and reaching the Congo border by the end of the decade in December 1909.

As mentioned mining and agriculture in essence dictated the development of rail routes. Three decades of rail growth from 1900 had seen railway lines grow like tentacles penetrating much of Mashonaland such as Chinhoyi, Shamva and Kildonan whilst in the Midlands Eiffel Flats, Masvingo, Shurugwi and Zvishavane came to receive the railway; and branch lines in southern Matabeleland served Matopos (whom Rhodes believed everyone should be able to enjoy leisurely at week-ends) and West Nicholson. (Ninety-four years later West Nicholson was linked to Beit Bridge). Where the tracks did not go, the Road Motor Service (RMS) was set up, this having been introduced in 1927.

Up to 1927, the whole system was operated by Mashonaland Railway Company under the title ‘Beira and Mashonaland and Rhodesia Railways’ but as from the beginning of October 1927 the Rhodesia Railways Co. Ltd. became the working company. From 1 October 1936 the Rhodesia Railways Ltd. became the owners of the entire railway system in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Zambia and the Vryburg (Union of South Africa) – Bulawayo section. The Vryburg – Ramathlabama portion was purchased by South African Railways in late 1959. On 1 April 1947 the then Rhodesian Government acquired the assets of Rhodesia Railways Ltd. and on 1 November 1949 the railway undertaking became a statutory body known as Rhodesia Railways.

The railway line through to Beira in Mozambique was relinquished to that Portuguese colony in that year. On 1 July 1967 the system was divided at Victoria Falls bridge with Zambia Railways in the north and Rhodesia Railways in the south. Rhodesia Railways was redesignated Zimbabwe Rhodesia Railways on 1 June 1979 and finally National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) on 1 May 1980.
In 1987 the NRZ handed over the railway running through independent Botswana (former Bechuanaland) to that country which then took over ownership, management and operation from Plumtree southward.
To be continued

NRZ revamp set to oil fuel industry: Total MD

Total Zimbabwe managing director Ronan Bescond says a revamp of the country’s railway system will go a long way in improving fuel supplies in the country.

Addressing journalists during a tour of Total Zimbabwe depot in Harare yesterday, Bescond said fuel companies were doing their best to ensure fuel security in the country despite a shortage of foreign currency.

“We are confident that we will get enough funding from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and commercial banks to ensure that supplies continue,” he said.

“There might be logistical gaps from time-to-time, but we are confident that we can properly do our job. RBZ has come up with letters of credit where they promise to pay at a certain date.”

The bank’s letter of credit guarantees that a buyer’s payment to a seller will be received on time and for the correct amount. In the event that the buyer is unable to make payment on the purchase, the bank will be required to cover the full or remaining amount of the purchase.

Bescond said it was time that the country benefitted from its rail network.

“There is also a good railway system, it needs reformation and all depots in the country are connected to railway. This will be a very big boost for the industry if we could use railway to increase volumes and frankly Zimbabwe is strategically located in the middle of a dynamic region and use of rail will be a big boost for the country,” he said.

Total, the Paris-headquartered and world’s fourth largest oil and gas company, has two active depots in Harare and Bulawayo, both connected to railway.

The company seeks to install solar power at 45 of its service stations across the country by 2021.

Credit: NewsDay


The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is concerned by increasing cases of vandalism and destruction of its points machines which is disrupting train movement and can result in derailments.

Points machines are used to direct trains from one track to another at stations, sidings and transit yards.

If the machines are tampered with, there is a danger of the points failing to open or close properly resulting in wheels going off the tracks, leading to derailments.

More than 20 points machines have been vandalised since the beginning of the year.

Repairing and replacing the machines is very costly to the organisation which is being forced to divert resources for other projects to repair damage caused by a few individuals out to enrich themselves at the expense of the national interest.

The acts of vandalism are taking place in both urban and remote areas.

If a points machine is damage beyond repair, it costs up to $25 000 to replace. Most of the points machines are being damaged beyond repair as the vandals try to get the fittings inside.

The NRZ would like to appeal to members to report to the authorities when they see suspicious activity on rail infrastructure or people tampering with railway equipment.

If they are not sure that people working on rail infrastructure are not railway employees, they should report to their nearest police station.

The NRZ also appeals to scrap metal dealers to verify the source of material brought by their clients as some from the points machine are being sold to scrap metal dealers.

Members of the public are advised that tampering with power operated points has negative consequences as they can result in loss of human life due to derailments while movement of people and cargo will be delayed awaiting repair of the machines.

The NRZ has a whistle blower programme which rewards people reporting cases of vandalism to its infrastructure or who help protect railway assets.

In June, NRZ paid school fees for a Form One pupil at Entumbane Secondary School Nozipho Sibanda through the whistle blower programme after she alerted authorities of a broken railway track near Sawmills thus averting a potential derailment.





21 September 2018


The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is pleased to announce that the Interim Solution Equipment being leased from Transnet has made a positive impact on the organisation’s freight volumes in the first three months of operation.

The organisation has been experiencing a steady increase in its cargo movement since the deployment of Interim Solution Equipment at the beginning of April 2018.

As part of the NRZ $400 million recapitalisation deal with the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG) /Transnet Consortium, the NRZ is leasing equipment from Transnet as a stop gap measure to cover resource constraints while awaiting finalisation of the recapitalisation agreement which will see the organisation receiving new equipment of its own.

The Interim Solution Equipment arrived in February but the NRZ only started using it in April as some formalities had to be completed first.

In the three months from April to June that the Interim Solution Equipment has been in operation, the NRZ has moved 856 476 tonnes of cargo, an increase of 13.5 percent from the same period last year when 754 404 tonnes were moved.

During the first month of the interim solution equipment’s operation in April, freight volumes went up by 18.4 percent to 215 063 tonnes from 181 585 tonnes carried in March.

In May, the company moved 305 345 tonnes, an increase of 41.9 percent from the previous month.

In June freight volumes rose by 10 percent to 336 068 tonnes.

The NRZ is leasing nine class 34 locomotives, four class 43 locomotives and 200 wagons as well as 34 passenger coaches (of which only seven have been received so far).

The wagons were put to dedicated use for Chrome exports from the Zimbabwe Iron and Mining Company (Zimasco) Kildonan in Mashonaland Central and Zimasco Kwekwe to Maputo.

The first batch of leased equipment was deployed for NRZ operations on March 29, 2018 after reaching an agreement on the commercial terms with Transnet and clearing the equipment with ZIMRA.

NRZ is embarking on a $400 million recapitalisation project with DIDG/Transnet Consortium under which it will acquire rolling stock, signalling equipment and Information Communication Technology equipment to increase capacity utilisation.

The NRZ system has a design capacity to move over 18 million tonnes of freight a year but is currently moving just over 3 million tonnes and the recapitalisation programme is expected to see a further gradual and sustained increase in freight volumes.



The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) Medical Section has launched a Wellness Campaign to highlight the dangers of hypertension and diabetes mellitus which are now ranking as major killers along with HIV and Aids.

While the campaign is targeted at the workplace, the NRZ Medical Section is using the Harare Agricultural Show to raise awareness among members of the public on the dangers of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension and diabetes mellitus.

Willing visitors to the NRZ stand over the age of 40 years will be tested for hypertension and diabetes.

Their Body Mass Index (BMI) will also be measured using specialised equipment to gauge the ratio of their weight to height.

If their BMI is found to be outside the recommended range, qualified personnel from the medical section will provide information for them to become fit.

NRZ is targeting people over 40 years of age because these diseases manifest themselves in people above this age.

So far, 34 people have been tested for hypertension, diabetes mellitus and had their Body Mass Index measured.

Only three (8.8 percent) were within the recommended range, signifying the importance for regular health checks.

As part of the campaign, the NRZ will run a quiz for people over the age of 40 and those who get the questions correct will get prizes.

The NRZ medical section is one of the pioneers in the introduction of workplace HIV and Aids programmes in the early 1990s and its HIV and Aids programme has won national recognition.

The NRZ runs 16 clinics comprising two administration clinics in Bulawayo and Harare, four industrial clinics at workshops in Bulawayo, Dabuka, Harare and Mutare.

It also has 10 community clinics spread across the country.

The community clinics offer services to NRZ employees, their dependents and members of the local community.


Public Relations Manager


30 August 2018




The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is using the on-going Harare Agricultural Show (HAS) to educate members of the public on the dangers of gold panning in railway reserve land.

Visitors to the stand will be shown by the company’s Security Branch the devastating effects of gold panning in the railway reserve on railway infrastructure and the environment in general.

The NRZ hopes the campaign will motivate members of the public into joining hands with the rail giant   in fighting illegal gold panning activities in railway reserve land by reporting such activities to the authorities.

The campaign will target mostly the young so that they are aware of what action to take when they see people digging along railway tracks.

The NRZ has a Whistle Blower’s Fund which rewards people who help protect railway infrastructure if it is proven that their information helped in the arrest of suspects and protection of railway property.

Apart from the Harare Agricultural Show, the NRZ will be using schools in various communities to raise awareness on illegal mining in railway reserve land.

Officials from the NRZ will move in schools close to railway lines around the country to address pupils and also urge them to report to their parents and elders in cases where they see people digging near the railway line.

The communities will then alert the authorities.

A lot of Illegal gold mining and panning is taking place a few metres from railway tracks.

Digging pits close to railway tracks poses a risk to the travelling public and there is a risk of rail collapsing under the weight of trains due to the weakened ground or surface.

NRZ is also forced to use scarce foreign currency to repair tracks and equipment damaged by illegal gold panning. This is money that could be better used in developing the rail network instead of repairing damage deliberately caused by a few people.

Illegal gold mining in railway reserve land is prevalent at Tatagura in Mazowe, Bindura Town, Jumbo Siding, Shurugwi, Shamva, Ngezi River, Redfield, Kwekwe, Esigodini  and in Chiwundura.

The railway reserve land is a strip 45metres wide on either side of the track along main lines. The public must respect this strip of land and stop any farming and mining activities along the railway reserve as it is a violation of the Railways Act.

The Railways Act (Chapter 13.09) Clause 38 paragraph 4, section c states that “any person who digs, excavates, drills, tunnels under or otherwise tempers with the ground within 45m on either side of the middle of a railway track to the actual or potential detriment of the safety of railway traffic: shall be guilty of an offence and be liable to imprisonment for a period of not less than five years”



Public Relations Manager



30 August 2018


The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) would like to set the record straight on the operational status of the Interim Solution Equipment it is leasing from Transnet under the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG) /Transnet Consortium Recapitalisation project.

All the equipment NRZ received is compatible to the rail system and conditions in the country.

When the DIDG/Transnet Consortium offered to avail locomotives and wagons to NRZ as an interim solution to its perennial problem of resource shortages, the NRZ requested for 10 mainline locomotives, 3 shunt locomotives, 200 wagons and 34 passenger coaches.

At the time the equipment was received at a function officiated by His Excellency, the President, Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa, Transnet had sent 3 class 34 locomotives, 4 class 43 locomotives, 151 wagons and 7 passenger coaches/vans.

The NRZ has now received six class 34 locomotives, four class 43 locomotives and 200 wagons. Three class 34 locomotives are still to be delivered.

The class 34 locomotives, initially earmarked for shunt operations, are the same size as NRZ’s mainline locomotives and are not suitable for use as shunt locomotives. They have been deployed for Mainline operations.

The class 34 locomotives, wagons and coaches were deployed for NRZ operations on March 29, 2018 after reaching agreement on the commercial terms with Transnet and clearing the equipment with ZIMRA

The four larger class 43 locomotives’ deployment has been delayed to cater for NRZ employees’ training to familiarise them with the computerised locomotives, among other reasons.

Transnet is also working on arranging special insurance cover for the locomotives and this is still to be finalised. It is expected that the issue of insurance will be concluded by 8 June 2018.

While the class 43 locomotives are stabled (not in use), NRZ is not paying hire charges. Hire charges will only start accruing after Transnet has released the locomotives to NRZ.

Once the insurance cover has been finalised, the class 43 locomotives, which are heavier than the NRZ locomotives, will be deployed on the Dabuka-Harare section which has 54kg/m rail as opposed to the other mainline corridors which have 45kg/m rail.

The Dabuka-Harare section has a higher traffic density due to cargo from Beitbridge, Maputo, Bulawayo and Thomson Junction all converging at Dabuka. This is the reason why the section was electrified first and has 54kg/m rail.

However, the class 43 locomotives can still be deployed on corridors with 45 kg/m rail but on reduced speeds.

Locomotives of the same weight as the class 43’s are being run on 45 kg/m rail elsewhere in the region without a problem.

This is not the first time NRZ has hired equipment from foreign rail operators. The organization was already leasing some 50 wagons from Transnet at the time the interim solution equipment arrived and some locomotives from Grindrod in 2017.




THE National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is concerned about an upsurge in illegal gold mining activities within railway reserve land.

Gold miners and panners are undertaking mining activities a few metres from the railway line and in some cases, they are digging under railway tracks.

Digging trenches close to the railway line poses a risk to the travelling public and there is a risk of rail collapsing under the weight of trains due to the weakened ground or surface.

It also costs the NRZ a lot of money to replace the damaged rail. This money could be better used in developing the rail network instead of repairing damage deliberately caused by a few people.

Illegal gold miners and panners in railway reserve land are found at Tatagura in Mazowe, Bindura Town where panning activities are taking place 500 metres along the railway reserve, Jumbo Siding, Shurugwi, Shamva, Ngezi River, Redfield and in Chiwundura.

The longest stretch where illegal mining activities are taking place is on the section between Gado and Chiwundura where 14 km of railway reserve land has been invaded by panners

NRZ urges these illegal gold miners to vacate the railway reserve land as they are violating the law. We appeal to the general public to be responsible and law abiding citizens to safeguard railways equipment and infrastructure for the development of the country.

While gold is important to the country’s economy as a major foreign currency earner, mining activities should not threaten the existence of the railways, which are an important infrastructure to the country.

Miners and members of the public are reminded that it is illegal to undertake any mining, cultivation or building activities within railway reserve land.

The railway reserve land is 45m wide either side of the track all main lines. The public must respect this strip of land and stop any farming and mining activities along the railway reserve as it is a violation of the Railways Act.

The Railways Act (Chapter 13.09) Clause 38 paragraph 4, section c states that “any person who digs, excavates, drills, tunnels under or otherwise tempers with the ground within 45m on either side of the middle of a railway track to the actual or potential detriment of the safety of railway traffic: shall be guilty of an offence and be liable to imprisonment for a period of not less than five years”

The NRZ has already started engaging relevant stakeholders as it formulates a publicity awareness campaign against gold panning within the railway reserve.


 The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is this week hosting chief executives of railway companies in the Southern Africa region, at the 2018 first board meeting of the Southern Africa Railways Association (SARA).


The board meeting will be held in Harare on Wednesday 20 June 2018, at the Monomotapa Crowne Plaza Hotel. The Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Dr Joram Gumbo (MP) is expected to officially open the board meeting.


NRZ is expected to ascend to the SARA presidency at the board meeting.  Leadership of SARA is based on rotational selection of SARA President and Vice President on yearly basis, based on the criteria set in the SARA Constitution. The NRZ General Manager, Engineer Lewis Mukwada, is expected to be nominated as the SARA president, taking over from Mr Christopher Musonda, the CEO of Zambia Railways Limited.


The Zimbabwe rail giant is currently deputizing the incumbent- Zambia Railways Limited. It is also expected that the Beitbridge Bulawayo Railway (BBR) will also ascend into the SARA presidium as deputy president.


SARA, which has its headquarters in Harare, has three categories of members of the Association.  The categories are full members who are railways in SADC, associate members who are allied to railway industry and special members who are organizations or groups with vested interest in the railway industry.


SARA was formed in April 1996 in line with the SADC Protocol on Transport, Communications and Meteorology (PTCM), Article 13.13 which stipulated the formation of Regional Associations for each transport mode.


SARA was originally formed to provide the SADC railways with a strong lobbying platform to advocate for fair surface transport competition by “levelling of the playing field” between road and rail in terms of policy and regulations.


SARA’s activities now extend beyond coordination, lobbying and advocacy to initiating and playing a leading role in the implementation of regional projects for the benefit of regional railways.


Besides board meetings, SARA members also converge during SARA conferences which offer a mixed package of presentations, exhibitions, gala dinners, golf days and immense opportunities for networking and sharing of ideas. These conferences are held in May every year and the last conference was held in South Africa from 23 to 25 May 2018.

NRZ geared for significant transformation

THE National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is on the verge of a new and prosperous era as it focuses on a new trajectory of recapitalisation.

The NRZ has been tasked by the Government to ensure the successful implementation of the $400 million recapitalisation project which is being undertaken in conjunction with investment partners- Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG)/ Transnet Consortium.

A deal is expected to be signed at the end of June 2018.

After more than a decade of trying to source capital to replace aging equipment without success, the agreement with DIDG/Transnet presents an opportunity for NRZ to rise again to be the giant it was in the 1990s.

The onerous task to ensure a once-again prosperous NRZ is back on course is on Eng. Mukwada and his management team’s shoulders  as the organisation plots the way out of the woods to once again enable the country’s economy to thrive.

As an initial step towards the implementation of the recapitalisation project, the NRZ is leasing 13 locomotives, 200 wagons and seven locomotives from South African rail utility, Transnet, as part of the agreement with the DGIG/ Transnet Consortium.

The equipment is already making an impact on NRZ operations and its customers.

Stockpiles of chrome meant for export are being reduced as all the 200 wagons have been put to dedicated use for Chrome exports from the Zimbabwe Iron and Mining Company (Zimasco) Kildonan in Mashonaland Central and Zimasco Kwekwe to Maputo.

Implementation of the recapitalisation deal will mean NRZ will be able to gradually increase its freight tonnages from the current three million tonnes a year to its design capacity of 18 million tonnes a year.

Moving more goods by rail will have a direct impact on the economy. More companies producing bulk goods will be able to use rail which is cheaper than road transportation and the savings will be passed on to consumers in the form of reduced prices of goods.

In December 2017, the NRZ commissioned a 34.5km railway line between Nandi and Mkwasine which will help small scale sugar cane producers transport their produce at a lower cost.

The $10m project was a sign of successful collaboration between the Government, the European Union which provided the bulk of the funding under the National Sugar Adaptation Trust (NSAT) through Canelands Trust, an organisation that helps out grower sugarcane farmers in the Lowveld, Tongaat Hullets and NRZ.

The entity also oversaw the acquisition of 24 High-Sided Wagons from China in November 2016. The wagons were acquired at a cost of $2.4 million using NRZ’s own resources.

The China-made wagons have made a positive effect on NRZ as customers’ demands are allowed to be met.

The NRZ vision and focus is also tilting towards diversification and unlocking value in its vast resources to shore up its revenue base.

The NRZ has some of the biggest workshops in the country with highly skilled engineers and artisans.

The workshops are in Bulawayo and Mutare.

On a daily basis, the workshops repair NRZ locomotives or manufacture goods needed in the operation of trains. However, the workshops are not operating at full capacity which can be used to the advantage of outside organisations in need of engineering solutions.

The workshops were recently rebranded Inter-Rail-Tech to provide engineering and mining companies as well as individuals with solutions to their engineering requirements.

Opening up the workshops has meant local companies can make use of NRZ’s advanced equipment and expertise while freeing their resources to their core operations.

NRZ is also promoting domestic tourism through Rail Leisure. Rail Leisure is a unit of the Passenger Services which runs Steam Safari Trains. The trains can be chartered by individuals or run by NRZ on special occasions such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.

NRZ owns buildings and land all over the country and sees potential in unlocking value of its Real Estate.

Its Real Estate portfolio is made up of 3 723 properties consisting of commercial and residential buildings as well as tracts of land strategically located throughout the country.

The NRZ is open to entering into joint ventures in land developments while offering competitive rates for building leases.

Most of the railway tracks in the country were laid in the 1960s and plans are underway to build new railway lines to cut distances and take advantage of emerging markets.

Among the planned new lines is one from Guswini on the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls Line which will cut through Lupane and connect to the Bulawayo-Harare Line at Kwekwe.

Goods such as coal from Hwange going to Harare will no longer pass through Bulawayo.

Another planned line is the Lion’s Den-Kafue Line which make it shorter to transport goods bound for Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo from the northern parts of the country.

At present all rail freight to north of the country has to pass through Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.

Zimbabwe’s strategic location at the centre of Southern Africa makes the NRZ a key element in the movement of goods from the north to south.

This makes NRZ an integral part in the economic development of not only Zimbabwe but the whole of Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

NRZ in 2017 marked 120 years of existence since the first train arrived in Bulawayo on November 4, 1897. It has been part and parcel of the economy since its establishment.

The recapitalisation project and other diversification initiatives being undertaken by the NRZ mean that the organisation is ready to continue playing its role as a key enabler in economic growth.

As a result of these achievements, management and other officers are slowly getting recognition for their efforts to revive the NRZ.

Recently, the General Manager, Engineer Lewis Mukwada, was recognised at the Megafest Awards where he received the Outstanding Public Service Leader of the Year award.