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This page is focused on explaining why things were done the way they were or why things were called what they were.

Why 950 mm Gauge?
This was due to it being the standard Italian gauge.

According to Durrant, et al. in Steam in Africa's Libya Chapter:

Believed to have evolved when someone laying meter-gauge track mistakenly assumed that the gauge was measured from center to center instead of between each rail, the Italian 950 mm narrow-gauge system has an appropriately Latin independence, a flamboyant disregard for the norms of its more conservative European Neighbors.

The author, a few lines later, mentions that this may have been apocryphal.  There is a piece of the puzzle that does not fit.  It is logical that a crew could have put down a few miles of track before the first locomotive arrived.  However, once it arrived, it would make more sense to change the few miles of track before they changed the locomotives.  Even if you believe in Latin independence.
I believe that before the French Revolution and the metric system that the Italians had their own unit of measure.  I believe that it was on the order of the US foot in size, but not exactly the same.  I think that 950 cm is three of these 'pedi'

Why was the railway shut down?
Officially, the Ethiopian Government said they weren't getting enough revenue to keep it going.  The shut down was actually due to the vulnerability of the line to the rebel forces, which reduced the revenue.

Why was it restarted?
The Eritrean President (and others) believe it can provide some relief on the over taxed infrastructure between Massawa and Asmara.  They also believe that it will provide a tourist attraction which will draw people to Eritrea for vacations.  Most people like spectacular scenery, friendly and hospitable people, and being able to be in any of three seasons in a few hours.  The draw of the railway is means of getting the word out.

Why three seasons in a few hours?
Most of the year, Asmara has a cool, almost Autumn like weather.  It is quite cool at night.  So cool, in fact, that the Kagnew Station swimming pool was covered to keep the water warm enough to swim in.  IAs you drop into the rift valley, the weather becomes mild and Spring like.  As you come upon the Flats, the weather is Summer like, even at the coldest time of they year.  Massawa and Djibuti were listed in Guiness book of records as having the highest mean temperature on earth.

Why was it called the "Steel Snake"?

 The path in the above picture tells all.
Why was it called Littorina?

  Click on the poster.

Why was it called "Ropeway"?
 The cables were much more substantial than that.  It is listed in many issues of Jane's World's Railways as "Eritrean Railway and Ropeway."  In particular, it was listed that way when I was in Asmara.

If I liked the railway so much, why didn't I take more pictures?
There were several reasons for this.  First of all, I was 19 and 20 the years that I was there.  A person that age has different priorities.  Second, film prices and developing costs were significant when compared to a GI's salary in those days.  Thirdly, I didn't drive and until recently didn't realize how much of the railway was within 5 km of Kagnew Station or where the bus from post went.  Fourth, I didn't realize the fare was so low until my last few months in Eritrea.

Here, I explain why I produced this site.

If you have any questions about the system, write me at:

I will try to answer them or find out the answer.

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


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