Africa’s Seven Must Experience Train Journeys

For railway enthusiasts, travelling on a 1938 Ansaldo Steam Locomotive Train on the Massawa to Asmara railroad is a truly vintage experience

By Samantha Spooner,

THE Massawa – Asamra Train is a truly vintage experience. The Eritrean Railway was constructed between 1887-1932 by Italy for the Italian Eritrea colony and connects the port of Massawa with Bisha, near the Sudanese border. Following decades of war, the railway became damaged and, having rejected international proposals, Eritrea launched a project to rehabilitate the railway system itself in May 1994.

The Massawa (sea port) – Asmara (capital) line was eventually completed in February 2003 under the supervision of retired railwaymen who had been called back to lead the reconstruction work. The stretch between Nefasit and Asmara is one of the most remarkable on the continent with over 30 tunnels and 65 bridges.

It is a unique experience for travellers who are treated to incredible mountainous scenery but also because they could be on board either an authentic 1930s vintage Mallet steam locomotive or Littorina railcar (a co-production of Mussolini and Fiat president Agnelli).

The historic railway covered 306.4 kms on a route from the port of Massawa to Bisha (31 km from Akordat) via Asmara and Keren. The trains serviced 30 stations, took 1548 curves.
The rail route goes from the highlands to the coastal lowlands of Eritrea passing through approximately 30 tunnels, 65 bridges and viaducts. The national rail line owes and operates solely antique trains, locomotives and rail cars.
Testing a colonial era Italian railcar for future trips to Ghinda and Massawa
Testing a colonial era Italian railcar for future trips to Ghinda and Massawa. Spectacular mountain sections with gradients of up to 3.5% were needed to enable the 950mm gauge line to gain almost 2,400m height over a distance of 100kms.

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