Facebook Page
Chapter II Eritrean Railway

Chapter II--
Eritrean Railway
p. 30

The new trunks had to have a maximum grade of 20 per 1000 and curves of 150-meter minimum radius; they had to include numerous construction projects.for crossing waterways: the five most important, of 5 and 6 spans, all 20 meters wide. The completion of the entire job was expected to cost Lire 50,300,000, of which Lire 20,000,000 was for equipment, and it had to be completed in five years, even though individual trunks were expected to commence operations.

In regard to these new trunk lines, the October 1931 issue of "Le Vie d’Italia" ( magazine of the Italian Tourist Association) stated on page 419:

"New Eritrean Railway from Agordat to Tessenei – Work will soon begin on construction of the Eritrean railway to the Gasc River, a line which will link Agordat to the agricultural development area of Tessenei. In addition, the project of continuation to Om Ager on the Seit is under study.

"The completion of rail links in Eritrea, to which the national government eagerly tends, will permit our first colony to have heavier traffic and therefore a better economic [life]."

Also planned were certain modifications to the Massawa-Asmara leg at a cost of Lire 4,700,000. The total expense, however, would be distributed over 11 fiscal years beginning in 1933-34.

The first trunk toward Elit, Agordat-Biscia, 36.5 km, which was contracted out between March 1927 and May 1928, was completed in early 1932 and inaugurated March 7, but unfortunately it will be the last of the line to be constructed, even though completion was authorized by resolution of the Council of Ministers in the fall of 1933.

As was done for the first line, from Massawa to Asmara, we provide the following characteristics of the Asmara-Biscia line:

Trunks: Asmara- Keren- Agordat- Total

Keren Agordat Biscia

- Total length of the line Km. 104.0 86.4 36.5 226.5

- Total curves m. 43,800

- Minimum radius of curves m. 70

- Maximum elevation m. 2,400 1,390 700

- Maximum grade per thou. 25

- Tunnels no. 5 4 9

- Min.& max. [tunnel length] m.

- Total [tunnel? length] m. 422.91 486.95 908.96

- Bridges no. 16 [6 & 3 ? ] 25

- Viaducts no. 1 1

- Minor [works of art] no. 476 37 513

- Special works of art no.

- Total [bridge?] length m.

- Stops no. 9 6 2 17

p. 31

The equipment equipment, consisted of rails of 24.9 Kg per meter with metal crossties every 50 cm. The earthworks carved from rock, supplied the material for the ballast.

Moreover, on the Agordat-Biscia leg, crossing of the Sciaglet and Cufit river beds was effect by fording.

The Ethiopian campaign halted construction of the Biscia-Elit and Elit-Om Ager sections, and subsequent events wrote the last word on the aforesaid work. Moreover, the Agordat-Biscia trunk was deactivated by the British in 1942 to recover the rails.

On the other hand, to assist in supplying the troops deployed in East Africa, the British built a rail trunk along the Gasc River from Malka Waja to Tessenei: this trunk, which originated at a British colonial line, had a gauge of 1.067 meters.

After the war, in 1952, the Eritrean Railways network (if we want to call it that) passed to the jurisdiction of the Empire of Ethiopia, while almost all Italian personnel were repatriated, and is actually still in operation, even if only marginally for the economic interests of the country. [Study of a]150-km extension is underway., on the base of the previous projects, to connect the existing Massawa-Asmara-Keren-Biscia line to the Sennar-Kedaref-Kassala-Haiv line. However, the former, as we have already seen has a 950 mm gauge, while the latter has a 1.067 mm gauge. Now, if the utility of the line supports unifying the gauges, it is not certain the Sudanese line would be modified inasmuch as that line is part of a complex of a good 3,200 Km of railways, compared to 343 Km of Eritrean lines. But widening the gauge of the latter would also entail almost total reconstruction of the line, also in consideration of its route and, therefore, the utility of the link-up would be [absorbed eaten up] by its uneconomicality, the reason the project was never [undertaken realized], but remains only in the stage of preliminary discussion..

The last news of the Eritrean rail line surfaced in February, 1975, when the Asmara station was a theatre of bitter fighting between Ethiopian troops and the fighters of the Eritrean Liberation Front, which the latter, to prevent [resupply] of the occupying troops, demolished various stretches of track. After this, nothing more is known. And, therefore, has also this trunk reached its end?

A second rail line used to operate in Eritrea, from the port of Mersa Fatma, South of Massawa, to Punta del Ferro (Iron Point) on the Sale highland, 9.5 km beyond Colulli. Constructed in the dawning of the century, in 1905, to exploit the potash deposits, it was about 65 km long; it had a gauge of only 60 cm, (Decauville). This line, which was operated by the Compagnia Mineraria Coloniale (Colonial Minerals Company), was abandoned in 1929.

Other short rail links; all of 600 mm gauge, were built in the area around Massawa: the first, built by the Royal Army toward the end of the last century, was about 15 km long and developed on the Abd el Cader peninsula, between the military [shipyard] and the salt ponds and was reserved exclusively for military use; the second

p. 32

was completed around 1909 for services required for the transport of salt in the Eritrean Salt Ponds.

The last rail construction in the colony was improving the port of Assab, and, in anticipation of the rail link with Dessie, a short line was created in the port itself. The contract for the work was awarded in 1939 to a Rome firm that purchased for Lire 50,000 the locomotive "Catania" from the Societá per le Ferrovie del Mezzogiorno d’Italia (Southern Italy Railway Company), operator of the Napoli-Piedimonte d’Alife (Alifana) line. The shipment with the locomotive arrived September 7, 1939.

The locomotive was a 0-2-0-T [configuration] built in 1886 by R. & W. Hawtorne with serial number 2053 and purchased by the Company for the Miniere di Zolfo di S. Agostino (Saint Augustine Sulfur Mines) in Sicily, which used it to pull the little cars on the 850 mm. gauge line between its mines and the station at Raddusa. In 1905 it was transferred to the Southern Italy Railway Company which converted it to 950 mm. gauge and used it first for construction of the Napoli-Piedimonte d’Alife line and then for operations on that line. During this period the engine never had a service class or any other number.


The first locomotives used in Eritrea were part of a group of seven engines built in 1887 by Henschel and by Esslingen, with 0-2-0T wheel arrangement and 750 mm. gauge.

These little steam engines, which were designated "Type I," were numbered from 1 to 7, and they fulfilled their mission first on the 15 kilometers from Massawa to Saati and then on increasingly longer stretches until reaching, in 1904, the 75 kilometers from Massawa to Ghinda.

Along with the locomotives, the Ministry of War ordered the following materials on a priority basis from the (Italian Metal Construction Industrial Company) of Castellammare di Stabia:

6 closed cars with brakes operated with a screw mechanism.

6 open [gondola] cars with brakes operated by a lever mechanism.

12 third class coaches

2 mixed first-second-third class coaches

3 big round water supply tanks.

8 water tanks, mountable on rail cars

2 steel Cottrau system truss bridges.

18 standard metal bridges of 8 and 9 meter spans

All this material had to be delivered to the navy yards at Naples and Castellammare between the 1st and the 15th of October, 1887.

Also ordered from the company Bagnara di Sestri Ponente were 20 12-ton Series GVboxcars and 30 high-side Series Ltv cars.

In 1900, along with the rest of the line’s equipment, they underwent the gauge change which was converted to 950 mm.

It was not until 1907 that the first three Mallet locomotives (0-2+2-0), built by Maffei of Monaco, entered service, followed then, among

All copyrights remain with the original sources.  No permission is granted for further use with out their expressed consent


Who What Why When Where
Table of Contents