THE National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) Mother’s Day Steam Ride from Bulawayo to Plumtree and back on Sunday attracted several people, who later rued their decision to take up the bait when the train came to a halt after running out of steam in “no man’s land”.
BY SHARON SIBINDI
Some enthusiasts, keen for the 200km train ride, came from as far as France and Italy although the majority of the locals were drawn from Harare, Kwekwe and Bulawayo.
The Steam Engine Train departed Bulawayo at 8:30am, with its coaches filled up with the old and young, who had come to enjoy a treat with their mothers.
Although the company had promised an enjoyable eight hours on board and just over an hour set aside for a stop-over in Plumtree for lunch, it turned out to be a nightmare, after the steam locomotive failed to complete the return trip to Bulawayo, forcing some passengers to organise their own transport back to Bulawayo.
Many were seen flocking into cars after their loved ones had come to pick them up after the NRZ staff remained tight-lipped over the delay.
There were claims that the engine’s water pressure had become too low to fill up the tank, which was also said to be leaking.
One of the passengers complained that the NZR staff should have communicated with them.
“We are (stuck) here and we do not know how much long this will take. We have been told that a diesel engine train is coming to pull us. We have children who are supposed to be at school tomorrow morning (Monday), but we are stuck here,” the passenger said, as he took his family away to seek alternative transport back to Bulawayo.
The train, which was supposed to depart Plumtree at 2:45pm and arrive in Bulawayo at 5:30pm, only left the border town at 7:30pm after the arrival of a diesel engine train.
Having left Bulawayo fully packed, the train made the return leg with half of its passengers, as many had found their own way back to the city.
The remaining passengers arrived in Bulawayo around midnight, weary and disappointed.
Some of those on board told NewsDay Life & Style before the breakdown that they chose to honour their mothers through the sentimental steam train ride.
Cheryl Honiball said she had fun because it was her first time to board a steam engine train: “It was very nice and I have enjoyed it. I love the steam engine and I came all the way from Kwekwe. It was a Mother’s Day special for me and I loved it.”
Another enthusiast, Harverye Dela, said her children bought tickets for her and her husband and they were excited to be part of the steam ride.
“This was a present from our children and we are from Bulawayo. This was different from taking us out for lunch in restaurants. We had our grandchildren with us, my son in law, my daughter and it was lovely,” she said.
Cecelia Leher said she was an ex-railway person and her son paid for the trip: “It’s my first time on this train and it’s lovely. My son in New Zealand paid for this trip for us to come on board and it’s really lovely.”
David Connery said it was good spending time with the family on Mother’s Day.
“This has been a great day and good time to spend with family. However, this reminds me of my heyday, when we used to travel to Harare to play sports,” he said.
NRZ business manager for passenger services, Munyaradzi Masaka said they had decided to promote the steam train brand because of its historical and aesthetic appeal.
“We have tried to create a service that is both recreational and nostalgic. Among those people who took part on the ride were people who once worked for NRZ as far back as the 1950s. Some of them were enginemen driving the steam train. So this is a very significant event for them,” he said.
The train also had former Plumtree High School students on board.
The Mother’s Day Steam Train, which was scheduled to arrive in Plumtree at 1pm, only got there after 2pm and the passengers on board had braai, while some had a chance to tour the border town.