The first railway in present day Zimbabwe was the Bechuanaland Railway, which reached Bulawayo from the border of Bechuanaland (present day Botswana) in 1897. This was built to the 3ft 6in (1067mm) gauge advocated by Cecil Rhodes and in general use in British controlled southern Africa. This gauge was used for the majority of subsequent rail development in the country, one short lived exception being the 2 ft (610mm) gauge Beira Railway, which reached Umtali (now Mutare) from the Portuguese port of Beira in 1898. The same year, the 3ft 6in (1067mm) gauge Mashonaland Railway reached Umtali from Salisbury (now Harare) and it was decided to regauge the Beira line, the change being completed in 1900.
In 1999, a brand new private freight railway was opened, considerably shortening the distance between the industrial and mining centres of South Africa and those of Zimbabwe.
In 2010, an agreement was signed between the governments of Botswana and Moçambique for an 1100km freight railway between the two countries, which would pass through Zimbabwe. In 2016, the three countries signed a memorandum of understanding committing to the developmemt of this route, which would incorporate enhancements to the existing Zimbabwean network.
The Zimbabwe network has international connections for freight with South Africa, Moçambique, Botswana and Zambia. Apart from a local tourist service and various long distance luxury cruise trains crossing the Victoria Falls bridge, the only regular international passenger service is jointly operated with Botswana Railways and runs 3 times per week between Bulawayo and Francistown, Botswana.
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