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Tazara shunting locomotive at New Kapiri Mposhi
Tazara class CK6 DH1-2005, a 1300hp B-B diesel hydraulic shunting locomotive, at New Kapiri Mposhi station

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. Although at present isolated from the rest of the national network, the section within Zambia is operated by Zambia Railways. In 2016, a new 389km line was authorised to complete the connection with the national network at Serenje.

In 2021 a new road and rail bridge from Kazungula across the Zambezi into Botswana was officially opened for road traffic, although regular public use did not commence immediately. The bridge will eventually also carry a railway, providing a new direct connection with the Botswana rail network.

Also in 2021, construction was reported to have started on phase 1A of North West Rail, a new 1067mm gauge line serving mines in the northwest of the country. Phase 1A is a 166km line from a junction with the existing network at Chingola to the town of Solwezi. Phase 1B will be a further 124km from Solwezi to mines at Kansanshi, Lumwana and Kalumbila. Phase 2 of is planned to run from Kalumbila to Jimbe on the Angolan border, where it will connect with a new line from the Benguela Railway near Luacano. A possible phase 3 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.

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Photo image by David Brossard from Wikimedia Commons