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The Eritrean Ropeway, completed in 1937, ran 71.8 km from near Massawa to the south end of Asmara.  This was the longest cableway ever.  It covered a distance which was over twice the current one longest in the world which has less than 35 km in Lapland. It was rendered non-operational by the British removing the engines shortly after their victory at Keren in World War II.  The assemblage stood for over twenty years and was still in very good condition in 1962 when I left.  I understand from Don Tipton that it was tore down, except for a few towers near Massawa,  by the time he returned in 1964.

Mke Metras was at Kagnew Station from 1967 & 1968 then again in 1969 and 1970.  When he was there he found nothing but foundations.   He studied the Ropeway and now has a site devoted to it.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Pry
Throughout the highway trip from Asmara to Massawa, the road danced with the Ropeway and the Railway.  This is just one of many crossings. Notice the gondolas in the sky.  A careful eye will reveal the cable. One of the pylons is visible at the center on the horizon.  The lines run from the tower through the knob above the cars to the upper right hand corner of the pictures. The line ran from tower to tower all of the way from Massawa to Asmara.  If I remember correctly, the line bridges this valley without support until it reaches the other side (going to the left).

 This gap or the one going down the escarpment at Nefasit is probably the longest one at 900 meters.

Here, the black dot near the middle is a gondola going down the Rift Valley escarpment.  .

There are a couple of sources of information about the line.  One is from Stefano Maggi's book: which Renato Gaudio has provide me a translation.  He has also provided me the section on the ropeway from the Italian East African guidebook...Africa Orientale Italiana.  A different perspective of the Ropeway is presented in a sidebar on page 75 or Guide to Eritrea,   All three texts are consistent in the detailed technical data.  Maggi tells us:

"Toward 1932 further military actions were planned by the Italian government in order to conquer Ethiopia. The railway was strategic for the transportation of troops and material, but it was judged a "bottle-neck", especially in the upper section between Ghinda and Asmara, where a climb of 1500 meters in 50 km compelled to a slow-traffic.

The ropeway was then designed to increase the goods carrying capacity toward the plateau."

The studies started in March 1935, and the hardware was built in Milano (electric motors and cables). The installation began 1935, but the official opening was in March 1937.

The final destination was Godaif in Asmara.  Godaif was the area around Radio Marina (Number 16 on Jerry Pry's map) or Tract A as it was known during the time I was there.  It was at this site the US Navy was quartered.  It also was the location of ET2US, the amateur radio club.  Some of the above information is also contained in Larry Bucher's posting.

Photo from Asmara Style
I believe this is where the Ropeway came over the side of the plateau upon which Asmara was located.
Major Features
Line length  71.8 km from Massawa to Asmara
Gondola  1620 
Capacity 300 kg 
Spacing  100 m
Speed .  9 km/hr
Maximum Span 900 m
Maximum Pylon Height 30 m

Stefani and other sources show there are 1500 gondola.  With a total line length of 75 kilometers when the line to Muncullo is included and a 100 meter spacing...that is the results.  120 must have been used for spares or for holding for loading and unloading.

If the line had remained intact and returned to service as a passenger line.  The spectacular scenery and dramatic change in climate would keep it full.  Incidentally, the line in Lapland was originally built for cargo purposes and now operates as a passenger line.  The line was used to haul passengers.  It cost 6 Lire to go up the mountain and 2 Lire go down.  The rate of exchange was significantly different before the war than now.

Maggi and Guida Africa Orientale Italiana report that the line had the capacity 300 metric tonnes which was the same as 30 trains.

The rating per axle of a railway car shown in Jane's was 12.5 tons.  Each car had 2 axles or a capacity of 25 tons.  A train from Massawa to Ghinda where it had to be split because of the grade had 10 cars.  From Ghinda to Asmara, a train had 5 cars.  The capacity of a train was about 125 tons.  However, taking the rating of the largest locomotive of the time, the 442 class, they could haul no more than 90 tons.

300 tons could almost be handled in three trains.

It could be stretched to say that a 10 hour day with the ropeway would haul the same as 4 trains.
Nevertheless, the line was an engineering marvel.


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