The development of the railways in Zimbabwe was directed by several considerations among which was the need to establish a line to serve the mining and agricultural enterprises which were fast being established along the Zimbabwean watershed and elsewhere, and to link the land locked country with sea-ports in Mozambique and South Africa. The first train arrived in Bulawayo in 1897 from South Africa. The line construction began from Fontesvilla(55km from Beira, Mozambique) to Umtali(now Mutare) in September 1892 and from Vryburg in Cape Province, South Africa to Bulawayo in May 1893. The latter was completed in October 1897 and the former four months later in February 1898. The link between Harare and Bulawayo took place in October 1902 after the initial construction was brought to a halt by the outbreak of Anglo-Boer war in October 1899 which necessitated the supply of materials via the Beira line.

The next stage was the construction of the line northward which began from Bulawayo in 1903 and eventually reached the current Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo border in December 1909. Up to September 1927, the whole system was operated by Mashonaland Railways Company under the tittle Beira and Mashonaland and Rhodesia Railways, but as from October 1, 1927 the Rhodesia Railways Company became the working company.

NRZ is a pivotal player in rail transportation within the Southern African region. It has an extensive rail network stretching 2 760 km across Zimbabwe.  The NRZ provides a vital link between the landlocked countries which are Botswana, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo and seaports in South Africa and Mozambique.

NRZ has a fleet of 168 locomotives of which 60 are in service and out of 7 153 wagons owned, 3 512 are in service. An estimated 10% of NRZ’s track infrastructure is under cautions (temporary speed restrictions). The automated Centralised Train Control (CTC) system which covered the network’s mainline of about 1 580 km is now dysfunctional, whilst the 313 km electrified section between Dabuka in Gweru and Msasa in Harare was vandalised resulting in the total suspension of electric locomotives.

The NRZ will embark on a phased recapitalisation project, one that will grow rolling stock assets in line with national and regional cargo traffic demand. This approach will allow for the progressive restoration of operational capacity and efficiency. Restoration of operational capacity of the NRZ will renew confidence enough for industry to return to the NRZ as the preferred and cheaper mover of bulk freight in and outside the country. The renewal of coaches and efficiencies will see the passenger service business grow as passengers are expected to shift from road to rail given rail’s cost effectiveness.