Zambia, the Independent nation formerly known as part the Rhodesia's in Central Africa is making a huge effort to upgrade the old narrow gauge railways to relieve transport problems. In particular, the old (3 ft 6 in) Mulobezi railway upgrade brought genuine joy and relief to local residents when the line upgrades were officially opened a couple of years back. This came about after the Zambian government took over the Mulobezi railway line from a concessionaire, Larsons General Contractors Limited. Overhauls to date have cost in the region of about US$100 million.

I recently had the opportunity to join other tourists on a 'rollicking ride' on part of the railway line near Livingston at the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site. It was great fun, but for the local residents who now have the luxury of a twenty-four hour trip instead of the old two to four-day train journey to get their families and livestock to town, the upgrades have been hailed as a welcome relief. The line now connects to Lusaka from the Western Province.

Jubilation as the railway upgrades improve the lives of rural people in Zambia

Railways in the central African countries were life-blood to developing nations during colonial rule but maintenance and infrastructure costs in post independent countries caused some train journeys to become hazardous.

The Mulobezi line in Zambia, which was originally built by The Zambezi Sawmills company in the early 1920's was constructed using the original narrow gauge (Cape gauge) lines of the first railway in southern Africa, the 1861 Cape Town-Wellington line. On that line, a train ran every day and the journey from Mulobezi to Livingston took about eight hours.

By the 1970's, this narrow gauge railway had fallen into such disrepair, and the teak forests it had been built to serve had been logged out so the old steam engines that had faithfully served (having been adapted to run on sawmill waste), were retired. The railway was in such disrepair that what was previously an eight-hour journey once a day became a two-day crawl once a week in the mid-2000's.

The Neilson & Company built Zambezi Sawmills Railway Class 7 locomotive No 955 now lives at the Railway Museum in Zambia.

The other train was given to the British artist and conservationist David Shepherd by the president of Zambia and it was shipped to the UK. For those interested in the world's old trains, the passenger coach of that train is now in the National Railways Museum in York, UK.

Watch the old narrow gauge Mulobezi train in the early days

For those railway enthusiasts who travel to Africa, it is still possible to experience the days of steam at the Victoria Falls. The Bushtracks Express Steam Train "is an indulgent luxury fine dining experience going back in time to the age of romantic steam train travel." It is a way to travel a short distance on a train pulled by a 1952 14a Class Locomotive 512 that "heads up the Club car, Dining car and Observation car, which have been beautifully restored by Rohan Vos of Rovos Rail."- (Bushtracks)