Railway enthusiast George Hart traveled from the United Kingdom to this Horn of Africa country in March 2009 for one reason: To ride, photograph and film the Eritrea Railway, a 74-mile mountain pass railway constructed between 1887 and 1932.
Passing through wild scenery, 39 tunnels and more than 65 bridges, he says the railway is “one of the most spectacular in the world.”
While the railroad was the high point of his trip, Hart also enjoyed visiting the capital city of Asmara, an immaculate city — “not a scrap of litter to be found” — with Italian roots, Art Deco buildings, and an unusual open-air market selling household items made from scrap materials.
CNN producer note
Asmara, capital city of Eritrea, was extremely clean, maybe cleaner than many cities in Europe. He added that there was a big colonial influence.
I visited Eritrea in March 2009 with a small, multinational group of railway enthusiasts. The objective was to travel on, photograph and film the 950mm gauge railway that runs for 119kms inland from Massawa on the Red Sea coast, to the capital Asmara, 2,394 metres above sea level.
The Eritrea Railway is a technical and engineering masterpiece and one of the most spectacular in the world, passing through wild scenery, 39 tunnels and over 65 bridges.
It was destroyed in 1975 by the Ethiopian Derg regime during Eritrea’s war for independence. In 1994 the Eritrean president declared that priority should be given to rebuilding the railway as far as Asmara. It was decided not to accept offers of foreign loans to build a completely new railway but to salvage as much as possible and rebuild the old line.
Railwaymen were brought out of retirement to work with the army laying track, rebuilding bridges and making tunnels safe. The quality of workmanship on the restoration is first class. Retired railway engineers came back to operate the workshops restoring the locomotives and the equally ancient Fiat powered Littorina railcars. The Littorina driver is eighty three years old and still enthusiastic about his job. Currently only rail enthusiast charter and local tourist trains run on the line using the original steam locomotives from the 1930s. A ride on this wonderful railway is an unforgettable experience.
It is as good as almost any mountain pass railways still operating in the world. It is hoped to commence commercial operation on the line in the not too distant future. Plans are in hand to further reinstate the line towards its original terminus at Agordat. Asmara is a very clean city that still reflects some of its Italian colonial past. It has some fine Art Deco buildings, a large military vehicle graveyard and an open-air re-cycling workshop and market producing many household items out of scrap materials.