The first railway in what was then Nyasaland opened in 1904 between Port Herald (present day Nsanje) and Chiromo. It was built to 3ft 6in (1067mm) gauge, as were subsequent lines in the country. The original line was extended northwards to Blantyre by 1908, and southwards to Mutarara in Portuguese East Africa (present day Moçambique) in 1912. At Mutarara there was a ferry connection over the Zambezi to other railways of the Portuguese colony; the ferry was replaced by a bridge in 1935.
The railway network of Malawi was concessed to Central East African Railways (CEAR) in 1999. At that time the network consisted of a north-south line from Mchinji near the Zambian border via Nkaya and Blantyre to Bangula. A branch from Nkaya ran to Nayuchi, crossing the Moçambique border to join a line to the port of Nacala. The original line south of Bangula via Nsanje had closed.
In 2010, a new line opened from Mchinji to Chipata, Zambia, but has seen little use.
In 2014 a new railway was completed from mines belonging to Vale in the Moatize area of Moçambique to Nkaya in Malawi, where it joined the existing line from there to the Moçambique port of Nacala, thus providing a more direct route for export from the mines than was otherwise available. The corridor was fully opened for service in 2017. As part of the process, Vale Logisitics acquired a controlling interest in CEAR, effectively becoming the rail operator for the whole country. In 2022, Vale sold the operator, now know as Nacala Logistics, to Vulcan.
In 2022, contracts were let for the rehabilitation and reopening of the line from Bangula via Nsanje to the Moçambique border near Marka, where it will connect with a recently reopened line from Mutarara, Moçambique. Initially about 1km of line from Moçambique is expected to open to a dry port at Marka, possibly during 2022.
© 2006-2022 Glyn Williams
Photo image provided by Central East African Railways