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Ben Costa's story on the restoration of Loco 523
03 Feb 2020


I joined Bushtracks Africa in 2007 as Head Engineer for their new Steam Safaris project. Before I joined Bushtracks, I used to provide services to BCL Mine in Selebi-Phikwe, Botswana.

In 2005, I was called to carry out a cylinder liner change on a 19D class steam locomotive. Thereafter I oversaw the boilermakers from a South African Company undertaking boiler tube changes for three 14A class steam locomotives which were bought by NRZ (National Railways Zimbabwe) for mining in 1995. When the locos became property of the mine, their original numbers were changed to the following:

1. Loco No. 511 to L0811 (Derailed)

2. Loco No.523 to L0810

3. Loco No.520 to L0809

Both locomotives 523 and 520 were manufactured by a British Company called Beyer Peacock in 1953. Once licensed for use the locomotives were shipped to Beira, Mozambique in 1953. From there they were transported by rail to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, to be introduced into service in 2/1954 (L520) and 3/1954 (L523). Their wheel configuration is 2-6-2 + 2-6-2 Garratt.

Shortly after I joined Bushtracks, I suggested to Christopher Tett, owner of Bushtracks Africa, that he purchase a 14A class loco from South Africa, ex-NRZ, which was up for sale. I strongly believed that 14A steam locos had the appropriate motive power and would be perfect for our project. I knew them very well, they are solid, strong and effective machines.

Not long after, we heard that BCL wanted to scrap their 14A classes for not having the hauling power capacity desired to pull heavy loads of minerals from the mine shaft into the smelter shop. I contacted the mine immediately to find out if it was true that the locos were up for sale as scrap. To my relief the reply was positive.

I immediately contacted Christopher and Adrian Tett to express my keen interest in acquiring the locomotives for our operations. I did not know at that time that one of the locos, 511, had already been sold for scrap metal due to a bad derailment. I did not want to see the other two 14A classes (L520 and L523) being scrapped and I was hopeful Chris would save them.

Chris and I made an urgent trip to Botswana to inspect the state of the locomotives. I was pleased to find that the boiler tubes had been renovated in 2005 and the locos were only operated up to 2008. This was a positive first impression, and meetings to discuss the possible buying of the locomotives took place. After long discussions we finally reached an agreement, and the locomotives became ours.

Thereafter I went to the mine with one of our mechanical operators to prepare the locos to be towed to Livingstone, Zambia. We spent three weeks getting the spring gears repaired to be able to move the locos safely on an approximately 810km long rail trip.

In January 2018, we began repairing locomotive 523. The repairs started off slowly as many frame and boiler components were missing or badly damaged. The full refurbishment took a year and a half, until finally we achieved our goal with overwhelming success. There was much celebration when the hydraulic and steam tests were conducted and proved to be beyond satisfactory. The final running test of the locomotive was done on Friday, 13th December 2019 on a 30km stretch on the Mulobezi Line.

Loco 523 was introduced into service on Saturday, 21st December 2019 with much enthusiasm. It is truly a strong and reliable legend with expectations to last, if properly maintained, for the next fifteen to twenty years.

See the full image gallery here.


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