Train to (almost) nowhere in Mauritania
By Sharon LaFraniere
Sunday, July 8, 2007
NOUADHIBOU, Mauritania: One might ask why any sane person would ride 675 kilometres through the Sahara in a railroad hopper, scorched by a blazing sun, surrounded by goats, fated to pass 17 hours watching desperate companions relieve themselves over the side of the car.
For one, it is free. And two, it is virtually the only way to get to Zouérate.
"Take a car and try to drive, you will be scared to death," said Mohamed Vall Ould Cheikh, who has been hopping the train for 12 years. "You will be driving in the middle of nowhere, no road, no water and no restaurant. If your car breaks down, you are dead."
One might also ask why any sane person would go to Zouérate, a wide spot in remote northwest Mauritania whose only feature is a gargantuan open-pit hematite mine. Yet on any given day in Nouadhibou, a rough-hewn town of 90,000 on the shores of the luminescent green Atlantic, maybe 100 people are bound and determined to make it to Zouérate - or at least to Choum, a dusty outpost of 5,000 people about two thirds of the way.
The mad rush for the train each afternoon is the best entertainment in Zouérate, excepting, perhaps, the sailor-friendly brothel posing as an Asian restaurant on the Boulevard Médian in Nouadhibou.
Nouadhibou is the western terminus for one of the world's longest, heaviest trains, a 220-car colossus that ferries iron ore from Zouérate to ships waiting in the cluttered Nouadhibou harbour. It is not meant for passengers, although it pulls one or two token, ramshackle passenger cars at the end.
But for Mauritanians, who have to get from one place to another in the north without paved roads or planes, the train is the closest facsimile to a mass transit system, even if most of what passes for seating is in three-meter-high, open-air iron hoppers.
"What else can I use?" said Sidini Ould Ali, a 35-year-old schoolteacher from Choum, after he climbed down from an iron-ore carriage one recent Saturday morning, coughing, exhausted and blackened by the load of mineral he rode on. He, his wife and two children wanted to spend the July school break in comparatively exciting Nouadhibou. "There is no plane, no buses, no trucks," he said.
For others, it is a good business proposition.
"It's for free," said Cheikh, a merchant who was busy stacking sacks of goods a few hours later, waiting for the train to head back north. "You know I am a shopkeeper, and I make a lot of profit by transporting my goods for free."
The train's operator, the Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière, or SNIM, officially frowns on the hitchhikers.
"It is not safe for people to be on the train," said Ely Ould Abeilly, the SNIM representative in Nouakchott, the capital. "If there were any other means, we would stop it. It is a very heavy train, and if it derails it can be a very big disaster."
Yet neither the threat of accident, the lack of comfort or the prospect that their goats will leap out and be eaten by jackals deters travellers. At 11 a.m. sharp every day, the train materializes seemingly from nowhere, kicking up a late-morning dust storm after its 17-hour rumble through the Sahara at a top speed of no more than 50 kilometres, or 30 miles, an hour.
The ore-blackened inbound passengers climb down off their perches on wagons brimming with hematite and the train plods off to the harbour to dump its 22,000 ton load. An hour or more before it is due back, the outbound passengers gather at the whitewashed train station - dozens of them in donkey carts and cars, bearing cases of water and canned goods, bags of animal feed, blankets to ward off the frigid desert night air, goats, sheep, family pets, end tables, digital satellite dishes, you name it.
Families stake out positions beside the railroad track, at courteous intervals from one another. Relatives and friends stand by, ready to assist in the boarding process.
The instant the train approaches, at 2 p.m., passengers sprint to the cars, and a frantic rush begins to load people and goods into the hoppers.
Bleating goats are hoisted into the air and yanked by their horns into the bins; bags of sand are handed up, to be used as bases for charcoal fires or as a form of toilet. After a 15-minute pause, the train lumbers away, some goods heaved in during the final seconds, others left behind with owners who failed to move fast enough.
Its outbound riders are better off than their inbound counterparts because their containers are empty except for a patina of ore dust, the odd automobile or camel loaded in the harbour and whatever goods they have managed to load.
Still, the journey is exquisite torture, the iron hoppers like ovens in the day and freezers at night. Privacy is nonexistent. Men have an option; when the train slows to a crawl as it passes through towns, some jump off, relieve themselves and race back before it speeds up again.
Most Mauritanian women, who are prized here for their heft, are not up to such escapades. "Can't you see how fat I am?" asked Marième Mint Ahmed, who was travelling to visit her Zouérate relatives over the holiday. "You think I can jump out of the wagon every time the train stops to get something to drink or go to the bathroom?"
A $4 ticket in hand, she battled her way into a passenger cabin that was equipped with a rudimentary toilet and at least enclosed.
Not that that would make the trip pleasant.
"We are 75 for a cabin designed for 25 people," she groused. "But at least we are not with the goats, sheep, dogs."
Western back-packers, as rare as thermal underwear here, are invariably nonplussed by the race to board.
One Swedish travel photographer, who rode the train in 2003, advises trying to outrun the heavily laden Mauritanians to secure a spot on one of the wooden benches in the second-class passenger car.
He was too slow up the ladder, he wrote, and a stout Mauritanian woman grabbed him by the neck, swung her hips and neatly bumped him into the sand. He wound up sharing the floor of a dark, windowless cabin with 150 people.
"We probably would have had a better time in one of those iron buckets," he wrote.
Is there only one train each way per day, and how many per week?
China Exim Bank to finance railway project in Mauritania
Updated: 2008-01-23 19:35
The Export-Import Bank of China (China Exim Bank) has agreed to provide funds for the construction of a major railway line connecting Kaedi in the south to the capital Nouakchott, official sources have said.
According to an agreement signed Tuesday by the Mauritanian Transport Minister Mohameden Ould Ahmed and Dai Chun Li, China Exim Bank general manager, the bank will provide 470 million euros (US$686 million), equivalent to 70 percent of the total cost of the new railroad.
The remainder of the cost of the railway line is to be financed by Mauritania's Phosphate Company, which is one of the major beneficiaries of the project, according to Mauritanian government sources.
Speaking during the signing ceremony, the Mauritanian minister welcomed the signing of the agreement, which according to him underscored the depth of relations between Mauritania and China.
"These relations were strengthened recently by the signing of a comprehensive agreement on the planned expansion of the Autonomous Port of Nouakchott," said the minister.
"This project will facilitate the exploitation of our mineral resources as well as the creation of various development activities in areas crossed by the railway line," the transport minister said adding that "this will also ease the movement of people and goods in the country."
According to the minister, the 430 km long railway line, Nouakchott and Kaedi, Mauritania's third city, through Tiguint, Mederdra, R'Kiz, Leguatt, Leeleibatt and Menjem Boffal, is to be constructed in three years time.
Unlike iron ore where traffic is often in tens or hundreds of millions of tonnes, phosphates is more likely carried by a few million tonnes. A not so heavy duty line is likely.
The line to Kaedi roughly follows the Senegal River valley just north of the border with Senegal, which is the more heavily populated part of Mauritania. Much of the rest of the country is increasingly desert as you go north.
Since the new railway comes no closer than 250km from any other line it may as well use off the shelf standard gauge, plus air brakes, alliance couplings, etc.
NEW LOCOS FOR MAURITANIA
Saturday, 10 May 2008
Eight new locomotives have been imported by the mining company Société Nationale Industielle et Minière (SNIM) for use on its 717 km iron-ore railway in Mauritania, linking the mines at Zouérate to the port of Nouadhibou. Assembled by Super Steel Corporation Schenectady for Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) at an estimated cost of $US1 million, the 1,200 hp, four-axle GPL15T units were specially modified to cope with conditions in the Sahara desert. Valves on the air horns, for example, prevent their sucking sand back into the system. Ploughs are fitted at the front of the locomotives, and additional air-operated ploughs on each wheelset help clear sand from the rails.
Mauritania: Eight 1 200 hp EMD GPL15T locos have been imported by mining firm SNIM for use on its 717 km line between iron ore mines at Zouérate and the port of Nouadhibou. Customisation for desert conditions includes air-operated ploughs to clear sand from the rails.
High temperature locomotives ordered from EMD
20 October 2010
MAURITANIA: Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière has awarded Electro-Motive Diesel a contract to supply six SD70ACS heavy haul diesel locomotives with AC traction motors, the manufacturer announced on October 20.
To be delivered from late 2011 they will allow the operation of heavier mineral trains through the harsh desert environment on the 700 km route from the mines to the port of Nouadhibou.
Each locomotive will have an isolated and air-conditioned tropical cab featuring a customised roof design to help dissipate heat when operating through desert temperatures of 50°C. They will also feature pulse filtration and movable sand ploughs.
The order will bring the total number of EMD locomotives operating in Mauritania to 44. 'SNIM has one of the most efficient and productive mining operations', said Ramzi Imad, EMD's Regional Director for Middle East & North Africa. 'They operate an all EMD fleet at 97% availability, which is one the highest rates of the North African and Middle East region, and we are proud of our 30-year relationship with SNIM.'
WILMERDING, Pa., July 15, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Wabtec Corporation (WAB) signed a $21 million contract with SNIM, the National Industrial and Mining Company of Mauritania, to provide bogies for new iron ore freight cars. SNIM operates a railway and various mining operations in Mauritania.
Under the contract, Wabtec's Standard Car Truck subsidiary will provide bogies and related spare parts for the cars, which will help SNIM increase its iron ore shipments significantly over the next three years. Wabtec expects to complete deliveries of the components in 2014.
Albert J. Neupaver, chairman and chief executive officer of Wabtec, said: "This contract demonstrates the global scope and capabilities of our freight rail operations. We believe Wabtec will continue to benefit as countries around the world continue to invest in their freight transportation systems and infrastructure."
Wabtec Corporation is a global provider of technology-based products and services for rail and industrial markets. Through its subsidiaries, the company manufactures a range of products for locomotives, freight cars and passenger transit vehicles. The company also builds new switcher and commuter locomotives, and provides aftermarket services. The company has facilities located throughout the world.
Wabtec signs $21 million contract to provide bogies for freight cars in Mauritania
Wabtec Corporation signed a $21 million contract with SNIM, the National Industrial and Mining Company of Mauritania, to provide bogies for new iron ore freight cars. SNIM operates a railway and various mining operations in Mauritania.
Under the contract, Wabtec’s Standard Car Truck subsidiary will provide bogies and related spare parts for the cars, which will help SNIM increase its iron ore shipments significantly over the next three years. Wabtec expects to complete deliveries of the components in 2014.
Albert J. Neupaver, chairman and chief executive officer of Wabtec, said: “This contract demonstrates the global scope and capabilities of our freight rail operations. We believe Wabtec will continue to benefit as countries around the world continue to invest in their freight transportation systems and infrastructure.”
Wabtec Corporation is a global provider of technology-based products and services for rail and industrial markets. Through its subsidiaries, the company manufactures a range of products for locomotives, freight cars and passenger transit vehicles. The company also builds new switcher and commuter locomotives, and provides aftermarket services. The company has facilities located throughout the world