106 lucky passengers had a bit of a treat last week when they took a trip on a steam train from Harare Railway Station.
“When I got into the train I was full of tears,” said an elated Cathy Cousens. “It reminded me of the journeys I traveled when I was young.”
Veteran journalist Heather Silk agrees, “To us, travel by the steamer was an experience. To my young mind, train travels always had to do with inevitable work or boarding school. As far as I remember no one ever traveled for fun,” said Heather Silk.
The Garret Steam Engine, now 106 years old, was brought out of retirement to tow two of the most celebrated dining cars: Chimanimani, also known as sportsmen car, used by hunters who dismounted the train while moving and shot game, and the Twin Diner were last used in the 1960s. This time it took passengers for a Valentine jaunt to Ruwa Country Club.
According to Robin Taylor, a locomotive engineer and writer, the Garret Steam Train was built by the Polling Company of Germany. It clocked 3 million kilometres before it retired after its last run from Bulawayo to Harare in 1972.
In a new initiative from the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), steam locomotives are proving popular with tourists. NRZ is refurbishing several additional locomotives for its tourism branding.
Munyaradzi Masaka, NRZ’s business manager explained that the engines will be used for rail leisure safari trips, targeting mainly tourists and plans are afoot to introduce more runs from Harare to Chinhoyi and Chimanimani as well as short trips to areas like Marondera and Mazowe.
“Steam train trips from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls and around Bulawayo have been well received. Our events in Bulawayo have proved popular and oversubscribed. In response, we decided to refurbish additional locomotives to meet expected demand,” said Masaka.
The NRZ has so far run steam safaris on special days such as Mother’s and Father’s Day, Valentine’s and family fun days, on three routes. These are Bulawayo to Victoria Falls, Bulawayo to Plumtree and Bulawayo to Mbalabala.
The Valentine’s Day trip cost $100 per person and included dinner.