Unity Day on a steam train, An unforgettable experience

The Chronicle

Bongani Ndlovu and Tawonga Ngoma, Chronicle Reporters
Bulawayo residents, some of them who had never boarded a steam train before, yesterday had a lifetime experience on the Steam Safari Train from Bulawayo to Plumtree and back.

The train’s slow movement and the many stops, was a perfect tonic to soak in the ambience of the scenic views that Zimbabwe offers.

The journey started at the Bulawayo Station at around 9am with the signature hoot of the locomotive which is named Ubhejane (Black Rhino). It’s a class 414 engine which is nearly 90 years old and it moves at an average speed of 50km per hour.

Hundreds of people from all walks of life were in different compartments eager to leave Bulawayo to Plumtree, the destination.

The travellers paid fares for different packages ranging from First Class, which had compartments where a family of six could use to the Presidential Dining Car and the Economy Class.

The sight of the train is still something intriguing and it was a lifetime experience for those who were on it for the first time.

It was a smooth yet bumpy and clanky journey through Zimbabwe’s forests with rain frosted windows letting in the whistling breeze.

Sitting in the luxury coach brought about magical mystique and the feeling similar to that of Harry Potter on his way to Hogwarts.

Looking outside, one could see a canopy of lush green trees whizzing past as Ubhejane rumbled on the railway track pulling nine coaches towards its final destination.

The journey had stops at Khami, West Acre and Figtree.

In the diner, Mr Bukhosi Mudliwa who was with Miss Irene Moyo said it was a memorable day.

“We are enjoying the trip. Something different to do on Unity Day,” said Mr Mudliwa.
Miss Sibonisiwe Khumalo and her friend Miss Babongiwe Hlabano wished Zimbabweans a happy Unity Day.

When the train stopped at Khami, passengers dropped off and then watched the train passing as it released steam wafts from the engine.

Many took out their smartphones and cameras to capture the moment.

Children on the trip had coins that they put on the rail track and when the train passed by, it flattened them rendering them useless.

It left indelible memories in their minds.

Mr Munyaradzi Chikamwa and his children were some of the people who experimented with coins.

“I’m enjoying the journey so far with my children. It’s a great outing for the children as this is the first time that they have been on a train. Definitely something that I’ll do with them again,” said Mr Chikwama.

When Ubhejane left Khami, it toddled along the tracks while people were watching the scenery.

It stopped at Figtree to ‘drink’ some water, that is essential to be mixed with coal for the locomotive to pull the trollies.

Here, Mrs -Anne Volkwayn, who lives in Bulawayo told Chronicle that she stumbled on the advert on the steam train with her grandson at the NRZ Museum on Monday.

“My grandchild says he wants to be a train driver when he grows up. We went to the train museum on Monday and we found out that this was happening.”

She said more marketing should be done so that people experience the journey on a steam engine train.

“All I can encourage for them is to advertise. People are few, but otherwise all is well. We are enjoying the trip to see the steam     engine moving, especially at our age,” she  said.

“They have to revamp these things and get them on the move and most probably it’ll attract visitors to our country.

These steam engines are actually the ancestors of the railways.”

Mrs Sandie Peters who was with her husband Ashley said they enjoyed the trip.

“Our trip was awesome. We enjoyed it very much and the service has been phenomenal. This is our fourth trip and it’s getting better each year. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys train rides,” said Mrs Peters.

A train enthusiast, Mr Mark Fulton said his father worked for the then Rhodesian Railways hence he enjoys train rides.

“One day my father was babysitting me as  my mother was at work and he called for duty. He had to take me to work as there was no one at home and I was fascinated by the sounds of the train engines, smoke and whistle.

“I fell in love and knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” said Mr Fulton, who was livestreaming the event on the Facebook page he runs.

NRZ acting spokesperson Mr Martin Banda said the Steam Train Safari experience was for those who want to enjoy the locomotives that are few in the world.

“This is one of the last few remaining Garratt Steam Trains which we decided to run for the special day to commemorate Unity Day.

“We are one of the few countries in the world which have got steam trains still running,” said Mr. Banda.

In Zimbabwe there are four steam trains that are running and there are a number in the museum.

Mr Banda said the steam trains were named after animals, birds and certain locations within the country for example, the one which was used, steam train number 414 is called Ubhejane which is a 15-class steam train.

Mr Banda said the journey took long so that travellers had time to enjoy themselves on the train.

“The reason why we are travelling here is just to have a family fun day. It’s not only travelling by train but it’s a special occasion where you experience the old train travelling which is a joy for almost everyone. So far so good and time is not an essence when you’re travelling by steam train.

“Tourists who travel specifically for this, commandeer the train and stop the train at any given time and let it run past them to show the might and speed of the locomotive.

“If the smoke is white, it shows that it’s operating at full capacity like what we experienced and what we saw,” said Mr Banda.

Passengers got off the train in Plumtree where they had some food and left the station at around 5.30pm.

Article Source: The Chronicle

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