Interested readers may start from about half way down through this article. (Reading the first half is optional as it is not so relevant.)

http://today.moneyweb.co.za/article?id=734690#.WPMPi4jygdU   

Prior to the early 1980s Rhodesia Railways / National Railways of Zimbabwe had no electrified services and relied on steam and diesel. There was and is plenty of coal at an open cut colliery at Wankie / Hwange. There is (was ?) also a power station at Hwange. And others at other locations. All generating electricity, formerly. 

In the early 1980s the British and Zimbabwe governments agreed that the British give development assistance to the new state of Zimbabwe in the form of funding electrification of parts of the railway network (thankfully not including the remote part which was the branch line where I resided at the terminus / end of the line).

Some people saw this as a reneging on an earlier idea of Britain funding buying back of farms from white settlers, to hand back land to the former inhabitants, who had alienated title to or possession of the land after being tricked by Rhodes, his sidekicks, and his lawyers. 

From memory the first section electrified was Salisbury / Harare to Gwelo / Gweru. I think this later extended to Bulawayo (Bulawayo is one of the few town place names given its correct spelling of the indigenous word by the imperialists / colonists). Skip forward 35 years and according to the correspondent writing in the link, and corroborated in part by the photograph, about 360 km of copper wire from the catenary has been stolen. I suppose 360km of it means it is all gone. Stealing 360 km of copper cable would have been a major operation, if done all at once. But perhaps there were a lot of small pieces stolen, bit by bit, at night. Presumably someone turned the electricity off, or just as likely there were power failures. 

Anyway, overall the problem was that electric locomotives rely on electricity to run, and over the course of time the electric power supply in Zimbabwe became unreliable. 

On the other hand, there is still plenty of coal, but by the time the death knell sounded for the electric locomotives, the steam locomotives were already decommissioned and scrapped. A cynical person could claim retrospectively (deja vu ? or who am I pointing my finger at ?) to have foreseen that this was going to happen in the first place, and told the Brits to invest their aid funds in some other project.

Slightly north, over the border in Zambia, it used to be possible to find steam locomotives lying beside the railway with their wheels in the air, where they had been toppled to, to stop them being obstructions to other traffic. I am not sure if Zambia has a coalfield. 

I have read in a couple of places that only 15% of the scheduled train services run nowadays (or only 15% of the locomotives, presumably diesels, can still move under their own impetus ?).

 A couple of positive points are: looking at the picture of the blackboard... 

1. There are still attempts trying to run trains some days of the week.
2. There is still chalk for the blackboard (although in the 1980s chalk and blackboards were problematic for me).
3. There are three contact numbers for enquiries about train services, and these phone numbers have 8 digits. In the 1980s phone numbers where I was in Zimbabwe only had 4 digits, e.g. 2126, and the phone system was robust (built to last, without built-in obsolescence, using legacy equipment, which looked pre_WW2, and it evidently has survived, and grown to boot)

Edited 1 time by Do Telfer Apr 16 17 11:36 AM.