The last Garratts in Regular Service

Zimbabwe and Botswana 23.08.2005 - 03.09.2005

Red sky above Garratts: Arfica, all photos: Bernd Seiler

This is an unusual journey in an economically and politically difficult country, Zimbabwe. We'll see all the Garratts which are still in regular use. There are only a few left, now, but it's amazing that there are any at all still in use. The reason for their survival is the poor economical situation in an anything but democratic country. The dire economical situation of the country makes this tour a real challenge. It's nearly impossible to get sufficient fuel for our bus and we're forced to use the black market, with smugglers bringing our fuel over the border. Nearly everything depends on making the right contacts through dark channels and to the size of the tips placed in so many open hands. However, there is no time to think about such problems, if we don't go there now, we will miss the last regular steam working of these wonderful locomotives. A maximum of eight Garratts (fife in Bulawayo, one in Hwange, one in Vic Falls and an additional one (20A) from the museum) can be in use at one time. Despite all the difficulties we're sure to get some very impressive pictures of these last steaming giants on the Cape gauge.

Our visit to Botswana will lead us to the Selebi Phikwe Copper Mine where steam is in use for a handful of trains each day. Botswana is politically and economically stable, a complete contrast to Zimbabwe. We should experience no difficulties here. It is a fascinating and beautiful country.

The planned charter freight from Thomson Jn. to Victoria Falls was confirmed by the state railway (National Railways of Zimbabwe). However, they asked us for the small donation of 41,252 US-Dollars for the train! Reason: for this long distance they need two crews. In Zimbabwe it seems to be well worth it to become a loco driver; the salary must be fantastic! But of course, it is not. Because we cannot, and will not, pay the annual salary of several managers we had to refuse this offer. Instead we replaced the long ride by several smaller events, which allow us to see three different classes of Garratts on the line. All trains are confirmed already, so we are almost sure that they will run. To be absolutely certain that everybody who is involved in this matter knows what we want, Geoff Cook, who will guide this tour in cooperation with Bernd Seiler, made a special advance trip in May 2005 and spoke to the managers in charge in Zimbabwe and Botswana personally.




Date Itinerary
23.08. Departure from Europe to Africa (Frankfurt dep. 20.45 hrs)
24.08. At noon arrival in Harare, visit to the depot of the state railway, evening continue with overnight train to Bulawayo
25.08. Morning arrival Bulawayo, visit to the depot of Bulawayo (probably loco classes 14A, 15A and 16A), shunting operation in the large yards, afternoon continue to Hwange (337 km), hotel in Hwange
26.08 Visit to the Hwange Colliery (ex Wankie Colliery), Garratt lass 15A, afternoon probably charter freight train Thomson Jn. to New Hwange with Garratt class 15A, hotel in Hwange
27.08. Morning transfer to Victoria Falls (102 km), charter passenger train from Victoria Falls to Livingston (in Zambia) over the giant Victoria Falls bridge with Garratt class 14A, hotel in Victoria Falls
28.08. Morning charter freight train from Victoria Falls to Masuie and back with Garratt class 14A, afternoon return to Bulawayo (439 km), hotel in Bulawayo
29.08. Morning charter freight train to Cement with Garratt class 20A, afternoon shunting services in Bulawayo (classes 14A, 15A and 16A are possible), hotel in Bulawayo
30.08. Morning 330 km transfer to Botswana to the Selebi Phikwe copper mine (classes 19 D and 14A), hotel in Selebi Phikwe
31.08. Selebi Pikwe copper mine, afternoon return to Zimbabwe, hotel in Bulawayo
01.09. Morning shunting operation in Bulawayo, visit to the railway museum is possible as well, evening overnight train to Harare
02.09. Morning arrival in Harare, transfer to the airport, flight to Europe, departure 13.15 hrs
03.09. Morning (07.05 hrs) arrival in Zurich and connection flight to any destination in Germany (or other destinations, price on request)

Near Hwange


Line description

Bulawayo is a medium sized city. It is an important crossing of railway lines with a large yard and two loco depots, one for steam and one for diesel. Although there are only a few steam locomotives in service, a visit to the large steam depot is worth the trip alone! If you haven't experienced a sunset in Africa before, you're guaranteed to be impressed by the amazing colours of the sky at dusk. Together with one of these mighty Garratts there are many good photographs possible, especially at dusk. Line service was suspended some months ago, but the commuter trains could well be switched back to steam again. Otherwise there are freight movements between the railway stations, which give the impression of line operation.

The Hwange Colliery in Hwange (the former Wankie) uses one to two steam locomotives. The number in use depends on the availability of empty wagons brought in by the state railway. If there are two locomotives under steam, normally at least one of them is a Garratt. The mine railway has some impressive gradients. There are several good photo opportunities, some of them having the appearance of line work! There are usually one or two trains during daylight.

Wankie Colliery

With our train to Livingston we'll pass over the impressive century-old, riveted girder arch bridge over the Victoria Falls gorge. Our charter train will stop for a while on this bridge to give us the opportunity for taking pictures from a chartered helicopter capturing the train and water falls in the same scene. Everyone who wants can use this air service. There are some small airplanes and one helicopter in Victoria Falls available for (ordinary) tourists to see the waterfalls from above. We can charter these for some 80 to 130 Euros each. If you wish to take a shot from above we'll arrange the helicopter. The price for the round trip flight of about 20 minutes is not included in the tour price. Of course Victoria Falls is one of the great scenic highlights of southern Africa and well worth a visit in any case.

The line around Thomson Jn. includes some of the most scenic parts of the NRZ. Beside "Christine's Curve" we'll pass through the one and only tunnel on the National Railways of Zimbabwe network. For this charter freight we want to use the Garratt (15A) from the coal mine. We already have the agreement of the NRZ, and only the price for the locomotive is unknown as yet. This might be too high, so this point of the program is not clear yet.

The line from Bulawayo to Cement offers no special highlights. However, the mighty 20A class is a spectacle in itself. A locomotive almost 30 metres long, running on 1,067 mm-gauge is an impressive sight.

The Selebi Phikwe Copper Mine in Botswana offers some very impressive pictures with the mine as backdrop, in addition to line service. The traffic is handled by beautiful 2-8-4 locomotives of class 19D as well as Garratts.

Wankie Colliery no. 2



We’ll hire self driving minibuses. This guarantees flexibility and quick transfers. The roads in Zimbabwe are in a good condition and the level of traffic is low. For the minibus we are still looking for one more driver who has an international driving licence. Speed limit on highways is 120 km/h, in cities 60 km/h.

The unreliability of the local authorities (sometimes) and the extreme lack of fuel (frequently) makes this tour a challenge in every respect. You should expect that almost nothing will compare with the European style of operation. Agreements will be broken, permissions can be cancelled (and can be re-issued after a certain amount of greenbacks changes hands) and time is of no importance (a morning train can start just after sunset) etc. Please be prepared for some unusual experiences, that can easily exceed the usual prejudices. However, the food supply is not a problem, the crime rate is much lower than in the RSA and the people are extraordinarily friendly, even to whites. Although we do expect some time consuming difficulties, we will not postpone this tour to future years. It is by no means certain that these last Garratts will survive even one more year. These locomotives will disappear sooner rather than later.

Although we shall be focused on regular traffic this does not mean that we won't "help" to bring an engine in the right position or change the times of interchange services to bring them into the best light etc. Please note once more, that it is impossible to guarantee things beyond our control. On the other hand, be sure that we will achieve as much as possible. Anyhow, we assume that all the charter trains will run as booked. The confirmation of all trains in April, face-to-face, will give us the confidence to be nearly certain everything will be done to let them run.

The visa for Zimbabwe will be issued at the airport. You have to pay 45 US-$ for the double entry visa. If you want to go to Livingstone by train and return, instead of taking pictures from the air, you have to obtain another singe entry visa for the return from Zambia for 30 US-$. The visa fee is not included in the tour price.

In Hwange and Victoria Falls there is a small to medium risk of Malaria. Please take either a Malaria prophylaxis or use a mosquito net and long cloths in the evening. At the moment there are no rules for special vaccinations.

For changing money it is recommended to use US-$. One US-$ is more than 5,500 Zimbabwe $, so please expect to get a bundle of 20,000 Zim-$ notes when changing money. Credit cards are accepted in tourist places and big cities.

Any disapproving statements regarding President Mugabe or criticisms of the regime have to be avoided after you arrive in Zimbabwe. Changing money on the black market is another no-no!

We expect temperatures between ca. 12 degrees Centigrade (in the early morning) and 30 degrees Centigrade (only in Vic Falls). Normally it's dry and sunny.

The airport tax of 30 US-$ is included in our air ticket price.

After the elections held (with the expected result) we can anticipate that the situation in Zimbabwe will be stable for some time. The people are all very kind (it doesn't matter that you might be a Caucasian, you're not a white farmer!). The selected hotels are all clean and ok, food is easily available and good. A normal lunch costs some 50,000 Zim-$. Although many people are very poor, beggars are almost unknown.



The last Garratts in Regular Service   2.440 Euro
23.08.2005 - 03.09.2005 Single room surcharge 195 Euro

Minimum number of participants: 6
Maximum number of participants: 20

The price includes:

Not included are:

The prices are based on a block booking with the airline and there is a limited number of seats. Early booking is recommended.

Victoria Falls


© FarRail Tours - e-mail: Bernd Seiler - zurück zu FarRail Tours
Click here to return to FarRail Tours