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A Journey to the Past

Steam Train on Bridge
The travels along a century old railway network and the still working steam locomotives that have been out of use for decades powerfully mirrors a journey to the past. Everything a traveler finds along this old line is a relic of the past. Such a line doesn’t even exist elsewhere.

This line calls the attention of both domestic and international tourists. It also rekindles faint memories of those who used to travel to and fro via this line in its bourgeoning stage. And to a new traveler it creates a long lasting impression.

What is more exciting about this line is that the tunnels penetrate through the steep mountains and foothills of the eastern escarpment down to the lowland plains. Surprisingly, while looking back, the tunnels appeared buried underneath the colossal debris. The bridges connecting wide river courses are also source of great wonder.

In other countries, these old steam locomotives are either non-existent, or are put in museums. In Eritrea, however, one can travel by these captivating and history-harboring steam engine locomotives.

littorina fiat railcar
Along this line one could see the skeleton of different generations of steam locomotives and diesel electronic locomotives which include: steam-powered locomotive Ansaldo 440 and 442, Drewery diesel locomotives, Fiat railcar, steam-powered locomotive Breda 202, carriages, trucks, diesel lorry Ural or Fiat — that have been modified to fit with the reconstructed railroad and being utilized as line inspection car. Other remnants are available along the Asmara-Massawa rail line.

What is more amazing is not the rail line but the experience one gets in traveling through it. The network boasts beauty beyond anyone’s imagination. Every single spot recounts its own uniqueness. Every single piece of the steel line is characterized by its own history.

The steam locomotive itself could become a basis for great attraction and make Eritrea the best tourism-destination for the steam locomotive enthusiasts.

Domestic tourists from departments of different ministries, institutions and the Eritrean Institute of Technology, EIT, and last week conducted a tour from Massawa to Ghinda’e. A member of the touring group Mr. Hagos Yohannes, Head of Technical Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, said that traveling by such steam engine trains makes him recall the experience he had around forty years ago in this same road. As the touring group represents different experts; such journey creates a concrete ground that would enable common working ground among them on the preservation of such relics, he added.

Visiting tourists from different corners of the globe know this steam engine locomotive in documented records. They become more eager to visit Eritrea, having heard that such trains are actively working in a country. Thus, the steam engine along with the mesmerizing beauty of the landscape becomes an attraction for domestic and international tourism.

Mr. Stefano Pettini, from Italy is a rail way enthusiast. He runs two websites and describing the Eritrean railway system. The latter describes the attention-grabbing scenery: “The incredible beauty and the variety of landscapes down the network featuring bold engineering feat is worthy of immediate and enthusiastic appreciation of experts from all around the world, as well as common consensus by all those who could benefit from the advantages of such a technological wonder.”

In 1975, the moment the railway system phased out, there were only four trains. Later on, in the same year, it was totally dismantled by the Ethiopian colonial rule eventually becoming a forgotten railroad.

Nevertheless, Mr. Stefano, who joined the touring group traveled from Massawa to Ghinda’e by the classic train, expressed his admiration with respect to the government’s determination to rebuild the old line that was totally destroyed. The way it is rehabilitated owing to a good work order after 30 years of abandonment makes the conviction praise-meriting one which Eritrea is to be proud of.

The steam-powered locomotive reaches over 100 kilometers covering up to 2,500 meters attitude above the sea level across such a beautiful landscape. This train has tankers that hold 6 cubic meters of water. And the train has to stop at five stations along the Asmara-Massawa railroad system to fill the tank engine with water and refuel with coal.

Disel Ural line inspection railcar

Pointing out the line is beyond historical heritage; Mr. Stefano said that it would become a backbone for Eritrea’s future economy. He expressed anticipation to see the revival of the remaining part.

“I think more than enough has been done. But we are looking forward for the next section – the Asmara-Keren line. Also, we are hopeful to witness rehabilitation of the line that goes down to Gash Barka as it once used to be.” He added.

Traveling along this line helps one notice about the socio-economic and political situation of Eritrea in the 19th century for it makes one sojourn to the past through the long-standing trains.


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