Once the preferred mode of transport for most Zimbabweans, the state-run rail service mirrors the decline in the country's economic fortunes during the last two decades. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Once the preferred mode of transport for most Zimbabweans, the state-run rail service mirrors the decline in the country's economic fortunes during the last two decades. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
An abandoned train carriage stands in Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
An abandoned train carriage stands in Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Wheels from an old train carriage are seen in Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Wheels from an old train carriage are seen in Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
A passenger walks past a sleeper train at a station in Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
A passenger walks past a sleeper train at a station in Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
People sit on a platform at a train station in Marondera, in Mashonaland East, east of the capital Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
People sit on a platform at a train station in Marondera, in Mashonaland East, east of the capital Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
People wait for a sleeper train, travelling from Harare to Bulawayo, to depart near the town of Gweru. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
People wait for a sleeper train, travelling from Harare to Bulawayo, to depart near the town of Gweru. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
People walk past station master's office at Marondera station in Mashonaland East, east of Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
People walk past station master's office at Marondera station in Mashonaland East, east of Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
The station master's office at Marondera station in Mashonaland East, east of Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
The station master's office at Marondera station in Mashonaland East, east of Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
A train mechanic sleeps at a platform in Bulawayo after an overnight train journey from Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
A train mechanic sleeps at a platform in Bulawayo after an overnight train journey from Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Train carriages are parked at a train station in Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Train carriages are parked at a train station in Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Commuters stand on a platform during a brief stop of a sleeper train travelling from Harare to Bulawayo, near the town of Gweru, Zimbabwe. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Commuters stand on a platform during a brief stop of a sleeper train travelling from Harare to Bulawayo, near the town of Gweru, Zimbabwe. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
The sun is reflected on railway tracks during sunrise in Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
The sun is reflected on railway tracks during sunrise in Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Harare - Dark, dirty and slow, Zimbabwe's trains, like much else in the impoverished southern African country, have seen better days.

Once the preferred mode of transport for most Zimbabweans, the state-run rail service mirrors the decline in the country's economic fortunes during the last two decades under the leadership of former President Robert Mugabe.

Gilbert Mthinzima Ndlovu, a veteran of Zimbabwe's 1970s independence war and a security guard at the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) for 35 years, yearns for the old days when trains were full and arrived on time.

"Times are different now as we have few passengers," the off-duty Ndlovu told Reuters as he rested in a badly lit first class cabin during the journey from the capital Harare to his home in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city.

Now the 10-hour journey can take 16 hours, he said.

A passenger sits in a carriage ahead of an overnight train journey at a train station in Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Not surprising, then, that many Zimbabweans prefer to make the 440 km (273 mile) journey by bus or public taxi in around five hours than have to endure a cold overnight train ride - even if at $10 the train ride costs only half as much.

The train carriages often lack lighting and water, and the toilets are filthy. The signalling and information systems are often vandalised and some tracks overgrown with grass and weeds because they have not been used in years.

NRZ is now trying to improve its fortunes.

Passengers are seen ahead of an overnight train journey at a train station in Harare.
Passengers are seen ahead of an overnight train journey at a train station in Harare. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Last year South African logistics group Transnet won a $400 million joint bid to recapitalise NRZ and fix some of the problems, including acquiring and refurbishing carriages.

But for now passengers have to make do with a broken train service.

"Today you can't even buy food from the train and all the coaches are filthy, with no water and the lights are not working," said one passenger who declined to give his name. 

Commuters pose for a photograph in a sleeper train from Harare to Bulawayo.
Commuters pose for a photograph in a sleeper train from Harare to Bulawayo. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters