As tourists speed along the modern motor -highways of Rhodesia, they may forget that it was the development of the railway system which, in the early days, laid the solid foundation of the Country's growth and opened up the principal tourist attractions to the public.

The chief example of this development was the Bulawayo/Victoria Falls main line, together with the building of the much-photographed rail-and-road bridge across the chasm immediately below the Falls, in 1905. Indeed, the famous Victoria Falls Hotel itself was built and is still owned by Rhodesia Railways and today is one of the Country's best hotels.


The latest in this new family of diesel-electric units are 10 recently received from Pennsylvania, U.S.A. They bring the total number of such units in service with Rhodesia Railways to 79.

Radio equipped, they are at present based in Salisbury and will probably be used (or the "dieselisation" of the Gwelo - Bulawayo section of the main line south from Salisbury - a development which will mean that the entire main line from Umtali to Bulawayo (472 miles) will be operated with diesel locomotives.

The new units develop more than 2,000 h.p. They weigh more than 98 tons each, are 52 ft. long, and can carry 1,000 gal. of fuel each..

They are indeed a far cry from the fussy little 2-ft.-gauge engines which laid the foundation of the railway system more than 70 years ago.

Spurred by the competition of road and air, Rhodesia Railways has now returned to one of in original roles, that of being a principal carrier for me tourist industry. It offers "package tour" in variety, including special excursions to the Falls and the Wankie Game Reserve; and the fine, new express service by diesel-electric railcar between Salisbury and Umtali, centre of the lovely Eastern Districts, is a boon to visitors without motor-cars and to those who prefer a comfortable and fast journey without the strain of driving.

In many ways, therefore, the Story of the railways is the story of Rhodesia and Rhodesian tourism.

Rhodesia Railways, established by the old Chartered Company (Rhodes's instrument for the early

Government of the new country) started operating in the late 1890's. The first line to be built and operated linked Bulawayo with Mafeking, in the Cape Province, on a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge in 1897. A year later, a 2-ft. gauge track was completed and put into operation between Umtali and the Mocambique port of Beira.

One of the locomotives. Used on  this original narrow gauge (the Umtali/Beira section was converted to 3-ft. 6-n. gauge in 1900) is now in the Umtali Museum, which specializes in transport relics of the past. It is dated 1897 and, after the  widening of the line, operated on the small Ayrshire Railway (serving mines north-west of Salisbury) and in the Selukwe Peak area, centre of the country's chrome-mining industry . Eventually, it ended its life  on a forestry line operated by Igusi sawmills north of Bulawayo, and, on being rediscovered was sent  to the  museum.

Two locomotives of the type were in fact discovered:d. One of them was cannibalized so that the Umtali exhibit could be complete in every detail. Recently, the second incomplete unit was lent to the Bulawayo Round Table by Rhodesia Railways; and it now stands in the Bulawayo Municipal Park, where it is a great attraction for children.

Engine No. 7 in the railway's records was named "jack Tar". Built in 1896 for Pauling & Co. (who did much of the early line Construction in the country) it was bought by the railways in 1899 and was used on the broadening of the Beira line. It then went to the Falls for the construction of the bridge and was reported to have killed a leopard on one of its early trips across the arch of the bridge.  Last used for shunting in the railway works at Umtali, it, too, is now on indefinite loan to the  museum there.

In 1903, according to the official register, Rhodesia Railways had 50 locomotives. That year, It ordered two more (Nos. 51 and 52), but their slowness, heavy consumption of coal and water, and overheating in the cabs led to a comparatively short life. When they were withdrawn from service nine years later and dismantled, the boiler or one of them went into service at the laundry of the Falls Hotel.

By the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, the railways could boast of nearly 100 locomotives, operating on the main and branch lines of Rhodesia itself and also on the Beira and Bechuanaland sectors.  Later, it should be noted, Rhodesia Railways took over the whole of the Bechuanaland line from South African Railways.

Perhaps the most successful conventional locomotive to be used was the 12th class, also known as the "Mountain Type", which for many years was the principal source of motive power throughout the main line.  First introduced in 1926, over 50 of them were in operation on Bulawayo - Bechuanaland line.

1926 also the entry into service of the first Beyer-Peacock Garratt articulated locomotives - the 13th class. These were originally purchased for use on a heavily graded section of the Beira line, which, until 1949, was operated as part or Rhodesia Railways.

In 1927, title of the railway system was changed from Beira & Mashonaland & Rhodesia Railways, by which it had been known since the early days, to Rhodesia Railways.

Continued development of the system led to the acquisition of larger and more powerful locomotives. The 13th and 14th class units were put into service on the heavier graded section of the Beira line, which, until 1949, was operated as part of Rhodesia Railways.

The advent of the Second World War saw the introduction of the 15th class locomotives, which were "grey hounds" by comparison with any other steam locomotives on the Rhodesia Railways system. A later in this type, the 20th class, were giants weighing 225 tons. They have mechanical stokers, their water tanks hold 8,000 gal. each and their bunkers carry 14 tons of coal. There were 59 of them.

According to present plans, however, the steam engine will have disappeared from the system by 1980. Diesel-electric units are gradually replacing them on the Umtali - Salisbury - Gwelo line and on the Bulawayo - Malvernia stretch of the line to Lourenco Marques (Malvernia being on the Rhodesian side of the border).

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