For the past year, the steam train in Livingstone has been seen crossing the main road near the Port Office and trundling through Dambwa suburb and on into the Park. But, up until now, it had not been officially launched. The operations of the steam train required a second engine for it to properly function (in case of breakdowns). Now the second engine has finally been restored and ready for action. The train is owned by Bushtracks and managed by Sun International.
So, on Friday, the formalities of the official launch were done. The Minister of Tourism, Michael Kaingu, came to Livingstone to do the honours. The train trip started a bit early so that all the speeches could be done.
First, Craig Storkey from Sun International told us about the development of tourism in the Livingstone region and how it was helping to uplift the people, especially through employment, but also through community projects which were funded by Sun International.
Next up, came Chris Tett of Bushtracks who gave the history of the steam locomotives and the carriages which are used in the operation. There are two locomotives – 156 and 204. Bushtracks has been leasing the 156 since 2006 but only managed to get some carriages restored in 2007. The carriages, when they bought them were completely wrecked but were lovingly restored in South Africa – this took 8 months. One of the carriages, the Wembley Dining Car, was one of Africa’s most famous dining cars, having been on exhibition duties at Wembley, London, from 1924 to 1926. Locomotive 156, as I have written about before, used to belong to David Shepherd, the artist. David Shepherd had intended to take it back to UK but when National Heritage Conservation Commission heard about this, they went to Bulawayo to see David and it was agreed that the train would return to Zambia. David Shepherd donated it.
And finally, Michael Kaingu, officially launched the train. In his speech, he did mention the fact that the visa fees were going to be ‘revisited’ … someone near me muttered … yes, they will probably put them up … But I do think that the Minister’s tone was one of hopefulness and that they will come down.
The speeches were relatively short and painless, so that we could all get on the train and enjoy the ride.
The carriages are beautifully furnished in keeping with their history. There are two carriages for sitting, two for dining and one for the kitchen. We all took a seat and were given drinks as the train jogged its way around to the Mulobezi line. The train takes the trip through Dambwa and out into the National Park and through to the other side.
As we went through Dambwa, all the kids chased the train – great fun for them obviously. And finally we entered the Park. It was still light and it was a great way to view the game in the park. We didn’t see too much, a few impala, and then we came to the area around Sussi & Chuma and there was a herd of possibly 50 elephants. They were in amongst the trees and making quite a commotion. I don’t know what it was all about.
A bit further on we stopped and the engine was taken from the front of the train to the rear. And here we watched the sun as it set. … And then it was time for food … The train stopped and we all took our seats in the dining car.
The meal on the train is a 5-course meal prepared by Sun International chefs and it is great. Food just seemed to keep coming … and so did the wine … And then, after a while, the train started its journey back to Livingstone – I think we had got to the fourth course of food by then … We jogged along the track in the dark and finally as we neared Livingstone we were on the coffee.
A great way to spend an evening and anyone who has the chance to go on the train should do so. It comes highly recommended …. by me, of course …