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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 ran west from Livingstone to Mulobezi, serving 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. Livingstone is also the junction with the Mulobezi line, and with the line from Zimbabwe via the Victoria Falls Bridge.

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 2014, construction began on a new road and rail bridge from Kazungula across the Zambezi into Botswana. The bridge is expected to be complete and opened for road traffic in 2019, with rail connections following later. This would provide a new direct connection with the Botswana rail network.

In 2017, a project for a new 1067mm gauge line serving mines in the northwest of the country appeared to be progressing after being on hold for a number of years. An initial 341km line will run from a junction with the existing network at Chingola to the town of Solwezi and mines at Kansanshi, Lumwana and Kalumbila. A second phase is proposed which would take the line to Jimbe on the Angolan border, with a connection to the Benguela Railway. Pre-feasibility studies have taken place for a third phase, which would take the form of a branch from Lumwanda to Sakabinda on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it would connect with a new line from Kolwezi.

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