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Tazara Railway Print E-mail
Written by Clive Horner   
Tuesday, 26 May 2009 11:26

A trip we made from Zambia which will never be forgotten.

Before writing about the railway, I feel that I should explain why it was necessary. In the past goods had been exported and imported through Rhodesia. After the Rhodesian Government declared U.D.I. ( Unilateral Declaration of Independence ) the Zambian Government decided it would be wrong to continue shipping goods through Rhodesia. This decision was to prove very costly and have an adverse effect on the Zambian economy. Once the border with Rhodesia had been closed the only trade routes open to Zambia which is a land locked country were through Tanzania to Dar-es-Salaam or through Mozambique to Beira ( now known as Sofala ). Unfortunately Mozambique was a very unstable country, with continual civil unrest. Civil wars are not cheap and since there was very little finance available within the country, the money was raised by continual increases in Port and Storage fees. At the time the charges were increasing at the Ports the price of Copper which is the main export from Zambia was falling. After some time it became unprofitable to ship goods via Mozambique. This meant that Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania was now the only economical route open to the Zambian Government. Before the building of the railway goods had to be transported by road. The Government formed a national haulage company. The company was called Tanzania / Zambia Road Services ( TanZam ). They purchased a large fleet of trucks and trailers the purpose of which was to transport goods between Depots in Zambia and the port of Dar-es-Salaam. The trucks ran day and night and as with any piece of mechanical plant break-downs were inevitable. The route was patrolled by mechanics and service vehicles around the clock. The route was commonly known as the “ Hell Run “, one round trip could take as much as two weeks to complete. Many of the mechanics and drivers made a lot of money on theses runs but most are glad they have come to an end. The roads were rough and both the drivers and mechanics had to camp by the roadside at night. They also had to carry enough food and water to last several days. It was hot, heavy and dusty work. It was during this period that the Zambian and Tanzanian Governments decided jointly to build a railway from Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.

The Chinese Government financed the construction of the railway, they also supplied the engines and rolling stock. An agreement was reached by the three Governments as to the way in which the Chinese Government would receive payment for the construction work plus rolling stock. It was agreed that part of the payment would be in cash and part would be paid by the importation of Chinese goods over an agreed period of time. Walking around the towns it was impossible not to notice the large variety and quantity of Chinese goods for sale. The bicycles were similar to those seen around England when I was a small boy, these were commonly known as “ Sit Up and Beg “ and of course they had no gears. In Zambia they soon became known as “ Flying Pigeons “. Although very basic they were very robust and at a price the Zambians could afford. Another product that I have never forgotten was Mayling canned peas, they were absolutely awful but once again the price was right. There were many other Chinese products on the market but I see no need to mention more. The construction of the railway was an enormous task, the land had to be surveyed and cleared, embankments made, rivers and streams crossed and of course the track laid. Most of the work was carried out by the Chinese, not a great deal was seen of them as they lived in camps along the line of rail and very rarely visited the towns.

We had followed the project quite closely through the construction stages. One evening whilst we were having a drink in the Company Club with friends someone suggested it might be fun to travel on the railway from Kapiri Mposhi to Dar-es-Salaam. Finally a group of us got together and decided to go. Our first major obstacle was to get the company to agree to give us all three weeks holiday at the same time, finally they agreed. Once we had the time booked we then began our arrangements for the trip. There were eight of us in total. Jan, Myself, Gary and Craig went as a family and the rest of the group was made up of four single guys. They were Pete, John, Terry and Dave. One other guy, Stewart should have come with us but could not get enough time off. We decided to travel as light as possible as we would have to carry enough food and drink to cover the duration of the journey which would take almost three days. We arrived at the Railway Station in Kapiri Mposhi and went to the Booking Office it was by now about 18.00hrs., as usual nothing ever goes smoothly and we were told that the train leaving that night was fully booked. We booked two sleeping compartments on the early morning train.

The Railway Station at Kapiri Mposhi is some way from the town, we thought about booking into a hotel for the night but realised that it would be impossible to get back to the station in time to catch the early morning train. The only other alternative was to spend the night at the station. There were very few seats at the station and those were all occupied, we put our luggage near the wall and settled down on the ground for the night. It was quite entertaining to watch the local people walking by, the variety of goods they carried was fascinating. There was so much noise that sleep was impossible, most of the night we spent playing cards. I think we almost wore the pack out. When I look back that night certainly had it’s humorous moments. Next morning we finally boarded the train, believe me it was quite a relief to be on our way. The compartments were quite large and each had six berths. We had paid for all six berths in both compartments even though we would only be using four in each. In this way we ensured that we had some privacy, in all the journey would take two and a half days. All went well until we reached the Border Post at Tunduma.

The Zambian Immigration boarded the train and checked our passports, they found nothing wrong with any of them. The train then moved on to the Tanzania Border Post. Apart from my own passport they rejected them all. Jan’s passport they said was new and since she was not carrying her old one they suspected that she had been to South Africa and had obtained a new passport just to visit Tanzania and they would therefore not allow her into the country. Pete and John they refused to allow into the country because they did have South African stamps in their passports. The best is yet to come! Terry and Dave were refused entry because they had no exit stamp to show they had left England. They did have entry stamps and work visa’s for Zambia but that was not good enough. The Emigration Officers still insisted they should have had exit stamps when they left England. The border post is situated miles from any towns or villages but the Immigration Officers still expected us to leave the train and wait two days for a return train to take us back to Kapiri Mposhi. Naturally we refused, they tried all ways to make us leave the train apart from physical violence they even at one stage resorted to waving guns and rifles at us. We still refused to leave the train, the train was now running an hour late so they gave up and we carried on to Dar-es-Salaam. On the train was an off duty policeman who asked us what the problem had been, we explained and he wrote a letter which he said we should take to the Immigration Office in Dar-es-Salaam on our arrival. The letter was written in Swahili so we decided to play safe and only hand in the letter if we had to. No one bothered us for the rest of the journey and we finally arrived in Dar-Es-Salaam. We were a little apprehensive when we left the train as we thought that there was a possibility that the Immigration Officers at the Border might have sent a message through to the Immigration Office in Dar-es-Salaam to stop us at the railway station. All our passports carried a refused entry stamp but there was no welcoming committee. We walked out of the station, found a taxi and asked the driver if he could take us to a hotel near the beach. The hotel he took us to was the Africana Beach Hotel.

The Africana Beach was a lovely hotel, right on the edge of the beach. It was quite obvious that before Tanzania took up Communism it had been a very exclusive hotel. Today we could see where it had deteriorated over the years and although it was still a very nice hotel I would have liked to see it when it was run by a Capitalist Government. The chalets were Rondaviles set out in the grounds and surrounded by tropical trees and shrubs. The bird and animal life was unbelievable, I have never seen such a variety anywhere in Africa. It had a spacious swimming pool with a poolside bar. Unfortunately the bar was no longer in use. The restaurant was first class, although as things were to turn out we would not be using it too often. We really could not have found a better place to stay. It was possible to sit at the swimming pool bar area and see the Coral Reef just off the beach. We really had the best accommodation possible. Many things happened on this holiday which today I find amusing although at the time it was not always so. Craig had been able to swim for some time before we came here but we had been unable to remove his arm-bands as he was convinced that without them he would drown, there was no air in them but he would still not take them off. Whilst we were here we finally managed to convince him that he would not sink if he swam without them and of course he didn’t. We had a great time wandering along the beach which was white fine sand and swimming in the crystal clear blue water which was very calm as the Reef broke most of the incoming waves. One little incident that comes to mind was the time I stepped on a sand fish, I am not quite sure who was the most surprised the fish or me. The sand fish is washed onto the beach as the tide comes in and very often becomes stranded until the next ebb tide takes it back out to sea. Walking down the beach with Jan and the boys I suddenly found the sand move under my foot and nearly fell over. We then noticed what seemed like a fish shooting through the sand at quite a rapid pace. When the sand fish is left high and dry it buries itself in the sand to keep moist until the next tide arrives. It would seem that I had stood on one which it obviously took exception to and in self defence took to flight.

This was to be a very relaxing holiday which it was for the first four day’s. “wait for it” could anything go wrong “of course”. At this time there were no credit cards the only way to obtain money abroad was by cash transfer from one bank to another. Two months before we travelled here we transferred £500 from our UK bank to the Bank of Tanzania in Dar-es-Salaam, we took a taxi into town and went to the bank Surprise! Surprise! The funds had not arrived. At this time the British Government had imposed currency restrictions on travellers going overseas from UK.

Pete and ourselves had been out of the UK for so long that we were exempt from the restrictions.

Our UK accounts were classed as overseas accounts, the others had not been abroad very long and so the restrictions applied to them. We were therefore transferring funds to cover everyone. Pete and I had no money which meant the others had none either. Over the next four to five days Pete and I seemed to spend most of our time either in the British Embassy or the Bank of Tanzania. Meanwhile we were all reduced to eating coconuts, for breakfast, dinner and tea. I won’t go into details, it is enough to to say that the British Consul was a total waste of time. It was the manager of the bank that got things moving and we finally got the money that we needed. We celebrated by going out that evening and having a top class meal and a few bottles of wine. The rest of the holiday went very well until it was time to leave. Because our passports had been stamped entry refused we had to go to the Tanzania Embassy and explain the position that we found ourselves in. We were a little concerned but there was no need, we paid a £15 fine and were free to go. The journey back to Kapiri Maposhi was uneventful and we were glad to be back. We should have been met at the station by Stewart but of course he wasn’t there, so we decided to catch the bus. (We had been told shortly after arriving in Zambia not to use the local transport as it was not safe). We travelled back to Kitwe on the bus and although it did take a long time, we found the Zambians that we travelled with to be a polite and happy crowd. From the bus station in Kitwe to our house we hired a local taxi. (We have now used all three forms of Public Transport and have had no problems with any). It was a relief to be home, we had been travelling for more than three days and were hot, dusty and tired. As I said at the beginning a holiday to remember. After a few days it felt like we had never been away.