Tim had written an opinion about the Eritrean Railway having been better than Cal-Train. Having read that, I couldn't resist writing to him. This was his response:
I very much regret that I did not take pictures of the line as I knew it in 1960-1962. I wasn't much of a railfan then (and am only really a very casual one now). I was at Kagnew, in HQ company working as an Italian-English translator/interpreter. That's where I got stationed after 6 months at the (then) Army Language School in Monterey, CA.
I rode the FIAT railcar (the Littorina) down to Massawa and back twice. In August 1962 and October 1962. We were tempted to go on one of the steam trains, that hauled both passengers and freight, but never did so.
It was a spectacular ride. Much more scenic than even the road, which I drove and motorcycled quite a few times. (I had TDY for awhile in Massawa, in the summer!!) Never rode the line other than between Asmara and Massawa.
I believe it was still operating to Keren then (am not sure of this). I went to Keren once, but on my motorcycle.
On my last ride I remember we were stopped (in Ghinda, I believe), and that's where we first heard about the Cuban missile crisis. I thought at the time that we were probably in the safest place to be in the world
The cableway towers and cables were still in place then (as you probably remember), but hadn't worked since the war, I was told. You have probably also heard the stories that one of the problems they had with it, back in the 1930s, was that the baboons would climb the towers and throw stuff out of the open boxes, looking for food. Don't know if this was true, but it was a common story that the Italians used to tell us.
When I arrived in 1960, there were over 5000 Italians in Eritrea. When I left in 1962, the number had dwindled to under a thousand. The Ethiopian government was squeezing them out, and the increased bandit activity on the roads frightened a lot of them away.
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