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Astounding Narrow Gauge Railway in: Eritrea?

July 15, 2008

Who would have guessed that one of the youngest nations on the Planet (Eritrea gained Independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after 25 years of bloody revolution.) would have a thriving Narrow Gauge STEAM operation?

Eritrean Mallet

Eritrean Ansaldo Articulated Locomotive, built in Italy to 950mm gauge, which is about 37" gauge.

The line was commissioned by the Italian Colonial Government in 1887, starting from the Port at Massawa, working slowly upgrade to the Capital at Asmara, which was reached in 1911. The Original intention was to connect to Sudans’ Railways, to Mussolini’s invasion put an end to that idea. Branch lines sprouted along its lines, eventually connecting Bascia. WWII has the Italians lose control of Eritrea to the British, which in turn fixed the railway and imported a handful of diesel switchers to handle local work. The Asmara-Massawa Cableway, built by the Italians in 1931 to haul war materials, food and supplies to handle the Italian war effort, was dismantled by British in 1942. The Cableway paralleled the Mainline of the railway at many points, and would be an essential modeling detail if one was to model this railway. The Cableway towers remained in place until the 1980’s. The British, and their usual lack of colonial foresight, left Eritrea to Ethiopia after the war, which predictably led to unrest. The 1940’s and 1950’s were kind to the railway, with plenty of traffic. In 1965 the Railway carried half a million passengers and two-hundred thousand tons of freight.  However, it was all “downgrade” from there, the road that linked Asmara and Massawa was upgraded and rebuilt, and that meant that trucks could finally make it up to the 7,000 foot capital city somewhat easily. The Communist Junta, theDerg, destroyed the railway and left it to rust away. There was a revolution that caused two decades of fighting soon afterwards.
After the bloody revolution, the new Eritrean state was in shambles, the Red Sea port of Massawa was most heavily hit. The Original narrow gauge rail line was very hard hit in the war, having a lot of it’s track removed and reporpused into makeshift frames for army barracks. The Bridges were heavily mined, and difficult task to remove them was completed in the early 1990’s. After the mines were removed, the new Eritrean state decided, as a matter of national pride, to rebuild the line. So, ex-soldiers and railroad veterans went back to work, using some satisfactory rolling stock, and a converted Russian army truck for motive power along the line while the steam and diesel locomotives were being restored. The line took shape through the 1990’s and was completed in 2004. The Infrastructure is gradually being rebuilt as well, as steam locomotives still need the coal and water in which to propel them. The original “tank towns” are once again booming over the incredibly rugged terrain, which gives Colorado narrow gauge a real run for its money. Spectacular bridges, beautiful Italian style stucco/clay tile stations, and the 0-4-4-0 mallets and 0-4-0 switchers that traverse this astounding Narrow gauge railway. Now Tourists from all over the world flock to this VERY unique railroad.

After watching this video, I think you’ll fall in love with this narrow gauge railway located in one of the most unlikely of places on earth. Make sure to watch it all!

Eritrea: Rebirth of a Railway – the incredible story of a forgotten railway in the Horn of Africa, risen from the ashes of war.
LEARN MORE: Visit this great websites on the Eritrean Railway and Cableway:
(Most of this article was written with information written on Wikipedia and the Video which is posted above, feel free to correct me on any factual errors.) 
5 Comments leave one →
  1. howard permalink
    July 15, 2008 9:34 am

    Whaaaa, very interesting terrain too.
    Thanks for the post.

  2. October 18, 2008 6:48 pm

    Wow! Picture my surprise to see my own picture on somebody else’s website. I suppose I made it public when I put on wikipedia.
    Well it’s beauty isn’t it and Eritrea is a wonderful place. Blessed be my relatives there. I hope the people will start to have an easier life soon.

  3. John permalink
    February 28, 2010 5:45 am

    The Italians were imperial colonialists but they built a wonderful infrastructure of roads, railways and buildings. The Asmara-Massawa tramway was a prime example. One of the greatest engineering achievements of the last century, it became extinct under British rule. First, the massive diesel engines were removed and shipped out of the country. Rendered useless, it’s structures were eventually torn down and sold for scrap. A mindless and inglorious end for such a system. With proper maintenance, it could have still been in operation both as a tourist attraction and/or a supplement to transportation and supply.

  4. Doug permalink
    February 18, 2012 5:18 pm

    Fascinating, would love to check this out one day. Just a small point of fact though, it wasn’t “the British” it was the British Government that lacked the foresight to properly withdraw from the region. At the time our own country was falling apart at the seems so foreign policy took a bit of a back bench at the time. Not that im condoning my Governments actions i am simply saying please don’t blame an entire people over the actions of the few.

    That said it’s a brilliant article and like i said i would very much love to visit the region.



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