Kristina Pålsson shows the above picture as Figure 1 in her thesis. It is the only picture, it has been identified as the construction of the line. On closer examination, the railroad is a Decauville. If the picture was any better, I might be able to identify the time frame a little better. However, it is definitely a ditch they are building. One of the Italian colonial maps of Eritrea in the US Library of Congress shows two water pipe lines coming from wells inland somewhere near Otumlo. My guess is that is what is being built here. It is interesting to see the sectional track of the Decauville.
There is an interesting map of Italian Colonial Eritrea which shows
the railroad only going as far as Ghinda.
Clicking on the map segment will open the site with the full map.
Photo from Renato Gaudio and Hans van der Splinter and Mebrat Tzehaie
The line was extended from Ghinda to Nefasit in 1910.
Copyright 1975, GRAF
In December of 1911, it reached Asmara.
By 1920, they had reached Keren. I have a page with a complete timeline about the Railway. Renato has a timetable from this era.
The Italian narrow gauge of 95 cm was chosen to exploit surplus equipment. This gauge was the most common narrow gauge shown in Italy in the early 60s. As recently as 1985, Janes showed two operating 95 cm lines in Italy...Strade Ferrate Secondaria Meriodionali SpA near Napoli (Naples) and Ferrovie Nord Milano near Milan. It was also used esclusively in Italian overseas areas such as Eritrea, Libya and Sardinia.
The rail reached its terminus at Biscia just beyond Agordat in 1932. The line was 280 km long. It was envisioned to join the Sudan Railway at Tessenai. Expansion was halted when Musolini decided to invade neighboring Ethiopia. The expansion effort went into upgrading the line from Massawa to Asmara to increase the capability to haul military supplies inland. Ferrovie Eritree was vital to the colonial infrastructure.
The construction required significant engineering to traverse the difficult
terrain. The gradients between Massawa and Asmara are shown on the line
profile. The highest point is just east of Asmara at 2,394.5
m. From there, it slopes into Asmara. There are 65 bridges
30 tunnels. The longest tunnel is 320m. Most were blasted through
solid rock. The crosing at the Obel River near Dogali is a
fourteen arch bridge. All bridges were stone or concrete arch bridges
east of Asmara. There are viaducts before Nefasit and just after
Devil's Doors. East African
Handbook shows Devil's Doors as the highest point of 2,128m.
Devil's Doors is at 110.4 km and the highest point is at 115 km from Massawa.
The handbook goes on to say that the gradient between Mai Atai and Damas
is so steep that trains have to be split and hauled up half at a time.
Other Railway in Eritrea
Before the Italians had this land the British Military had built a broad gauge inland some distance south of Massawa site which discribes a British Military Railway in Eritrea.. Some reports had it that it, too, was a 15 inch gauge, but another article stated it was a seven foot gauge. Jennie Street has confirmed that it was 5 feet 6 inch gauge.
This railway was built in 1867 and 1868 by the Royal Engineers. A website said it ran inland from Zula to Magdala. Zula is in the exact location of "Foro" in the Guide. Magdala is identified as being 300 miles inland from Zula. The railway was able to reach to within 12 miles of it. From the looks of it, the railroad did not run near that far. I will be importing the map into a Geographic Information System (GIS) and measure the path length. I''m trying to learn GIS; don't expect it over night. I'll have to fix my errors of assumption first.
Magdala was the capital prior to being in Addis Abbaba. Sir Robert Napier's forces defeated Emperor Tewodros' forces at Magdala are released a number of hostages. The ease of Tewodros' defeat lead to assumptions on behalf of the Italians at Adawa which lead to their defeat.
Magdala is identified in Historic Dictionary of Ethiopia and Eritrea
as Amba Megdela a sharp sided mesa.