Eritrean Railway: Revealing Mesmerizing Beauty of Eritrea’s Landscape


By Kesete Ghebrehiwet,

The travels along a century old railway network and the still working steam locomotives that have been out of use for decades powerfully mirrors a journey to the past. Everything a traveler finds along this old line is a relic of the past. Such a line reportedly exists only in a couple of countries elsewhere besides Eritrea.

This line calls the attention of both domestic and international tourists. It also rekindles faint memories of those who used to travel to and fro via this line in its bourgeoning stage. And to a new traveler it creates a long lasting impression.

What is more exciting about this line is that the tunnels penetrate through the steep mountains and foothills of the eastern escarpment down to the lowland plains. Surprisingly, while looking back, the tunnels appeared buried underneath the colossal debris. The bridges connecting wide river courses are also sources of great wonder.

In other countries, these old steam locomotives are either nonexistent, or are put in museums. In Eritrea, however, one can travel by these captivating and history-harboring steam engine locomotives.

Along this line one could see the skeleton of different generations of steam locomotives and diesel electronic locomotives which include: steam-powered locomotive Ansaldo 440 and 442, Drewery diesel locomotives, Fiat railcar, steam-powered locomotive Breda 202, carriages, trucks, diesel lorry Ural or Fiat — that have been modified to fit with the reconstructed railroad and being utilized as line inspection car. Other remnants are available along the Asmara-Massawa rail line.

What is more amazing is not the rail line but the experience one gets in traveling through it. The network boasts beauty beyond anyone’s imagination. Every single spot recounts its own uniqueness. Every single piece of the steel line is characterized by its own history.

The steam locomotive itself could become a basis for great attraction and make Eritrea the best tourism-destination for the steam locomotive enthusiasts.

Visiting tourists from different corners of the globe know this steam engine locomotive in documented records.

They become more eager to visit Eritrea, having heard that such trains are actively working in a country. Thus, the steam engine along with the mesmerizing beauty of the landscape becomes an attraction for domestic and international tourism.

During his visit back in 2010, Mr. Stefano Pettini, an Italian who is a rail way enthusiast said this: “the incredible beauty and the variety of landscapes down the network featuring bold engineering feat is worthy of immediate and enthusiastic appreciation of experts from all around the world, as well as common consensus by all those who could benefit from the advantages of such a technological wonder.”

In 1975, the moment the railway system phased out, there were only four trains. Later on, in the same year, it was totally dismantled by the Ethiopian colonial rule eventually becoming a forgotten railroad.

Many tourists express their admiration with respect to the government’s determination to rebuild the old line that was totally destroyed. The way it is rehabilitated owing to a good work order after 30 years of abandonment makes the conviction praise-meriting one which Eritrea is to be proud of.

The steam-powered locomotive reaches over 100 kilometers covering up to 2,500 meters attitude above the sea level across such a beautiful landscape. This train has tankers that hold 6 cubic meters of water. And the train has to stop at five stations along the Asmara-Massawa railroad system to fill the tank engine with water and refuel with coal. The line is beyond historical heritage; and for sure it would become a backbone for Eritrea’s future economy.

Traveling along this line helps one notice about the socioeconomic and political situation of Eritrea in the 19th century for it makes one sojourn to the past through the long-standing trains.