What is now Zambia Railways Limited was formerly the North-Western Region of Rhodesia Railways with its regional headquarters at Kabwe while the company’s headquarters was in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The construction of this line started at the Victoria Falls Bridge in 1903 and was finally connected to Zaire (Now Congo DR) in 1909. The 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge Cape gauge ZR network was built during British colonial rule as part of the vision of the Cape-Cairo railway but the economic spur was to access the mines of Central Africa. The railway started as part of Rhodesian Railways, the company which ran the railways of Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia as an integrated operation, which was one of the largest employers and enterprises in both countries. The railway arrived in the future Zambia early in 1905 when the 150 km Livingstone-Kalomo line was built in advance of completion in September of that year of the Victoria Falls Bridge from the then Southern Rhodesia to Livingstone. The first wagons on the line were hauled by oxen, then a single locomotive was conveyed in pieces by cableway across the gorge where the bridge was being built to start up operations to Kalomo in advance of the main line connection.
The line operated as Rhodesia Railways with joint ownership with Southern Rhodesia until after the dissolution of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1963 when Rhodesia Railways became and operated as the Unitary Railway System with Assets remaining jointly owned by Zambia and Southern Rhodesia (Now, Zimbabwe) until 1967. Another major bridge was required to cross the Kafue River and the 427 m long Kafue Railway Bridge, the longest on the Rhodesian Railways or Zambian Railways network was completed in 1906.
The line reached Broken Hill (Kabwe) in 1906 and Ndola in the Copperbelt in 1909 (connecting to Sakania in the Congo), some 20 years before the first large-scale copper mines opened there. Zambia Railways operates the Mulobezi Railway, a branch line from Livingstone, built as a private timber line.
In the mid-1960s spurred by the Rhodesian UDI crisis, the newly independent Zambia split its railways off from Rhodesia Railways.
In 1967, the Zambian government passed the Zambia Railways Act 1967, which gave birth to the Zambia Railways Board. In 1978, the government decided that Zambia Railways be transferred to ZIMCO with effect from January 1979. This transfer necessitated the incorporation of the new company, limited by shares and the dissolution of the Zambia Railways Board.
In 1982, the Railways Act vested all assets and liabilities of the Zambia Railways Board into Zambia Railways Limited, a company incorporated under the Companies Act of Zambia. The transfer was effected in April 1984.
In December 2003, the government privatized Zambia Railways Limited through a concession agreement signed with a private company called “Railway Systems of Zambia”. The latter was given rights to operate both freight and passenger trains.
On 10th September 2012, the government cancelled the Concession Agreement signed with the private company, Railway Systems of Zambia, and repossessed operational rights and hence the re-birth of Zambia Railways Limited.