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The first railway arrived in what was then Northern Rhodesia in 1905 with the opening of the bridge over the Victoria Falls. The 3ft 6in (1067mm) gauge line ran for just a few miles to Livingstone, but within 5 years was extended via the capital, Lusaka, to the northern copper producing region of the country.

The next railway development took place in the late 1920s, with the opening of two major railways: one, the Benguela Railway, ran from the copper belt via the Belgian Congo (present day Democratic Republic of Congo) to Angola. The other, the Mulobezi Railway, ran west from Livingstone to serve the timber extraction industry in the teak forests.

A major new development took place in 1975 with the opening of the TAZARA line from Kapiri Mposhi in northern Zambia to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. This prestigious 1850km railway was motivated in part by continued civil unrest in Angola and the Congo, which had resulted in the Benguela Railway being severed at the Zambian frontier.

The main railway spine through the country today is the Zambia Railways line from Livingstone, via Lusaka, to Kitwe in the north, used by passenger and freight trains. At Kapiri Mposhi there is a junction with TAZARA that is used by freight trains but not passenger. TAZARA has its own passenger trains, but the passenger stations of the two railways at Kapiri Mposhi are separated by a distance of around 2km. On the other hand, the passenger station at Livingstone is shared by Zambia Railways, Mulobezi Railway and the various special tourist trains which arrive in Zambia via the Victoria Falls Bridge. Livingstone is also the point of connection for freight movements between these systems.

The main line was concessed to a private company in 2003, but the concession was withdrawn in 2012. The Mulobezi Railway continues to operate as a separate entity. The TAZARA line is owned by the states of Tanzania and Zambia and operated by a joint corporation.

In 2010, a new line opened between Chipata and Mchinji, Malawi. It is isolated from the rest of the Zambian network and operated by a separate company. However, in 2016 an new 389km line was authorised which will connect this railway with the national network at Serenje.

in 2011, a project for a new 1067mm gauge line serving mines in the northwest of the country was revived after being on hold for several years. The initial 290km line will run from a junction with the existing network at Chingola to the Kansanshi, Lumwana and Kalumbila mines. A further 300km line is proposed to Jimbe on the Angolan border, where it would connect with the Benguela Railway. Future enhancements may include a link to Kolwezi in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

There is a proposal put forward by the Namibian government to connect the railway network of that country directly with the northern region of Zambia.

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Flag image from CIA World Factbook