The International Steam Pages


Narrow Gauge Steam Survivors in Cameroon, 2012

Thomas Kautzor visited the country between 25th and 28th February 2012:


Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC):

CDC is a state-owned agro-industrial enterprise that was founded in 1947 to acquire, develop and operate extensive plantations of tropical crops in the southwest part of Cameroon then under British mandate. It grows rubber (11 estates), oil palm (7 estates), bananas (3 estates) and formerly tea (the Tole Tea Estate near Buea was privatized a few years ago) in the South West and Littoral Regions, and from these crops produces semi-finished rubber, palm oil, palm kernel and top grade edible bananas for the local and export markets (the bananas are marketed under the Makossa brand by Del Monte). Its plantations cover a total area of 37,387 Hectares (19,758 ha. rubber, 14,070 ha. oil palm and banana 3,559 ha.), but it also buys from small holders. It employs 15,222 permanent and 5,064 seasonal workers. CDC also owns the Likomba Golf Course near Tiko.

In the past 600 mm gauge railways were used in many of the plantations, but these have all now closed. However there are still a number of relics (track remains, bridges, etc…) and locomotives to be found in the area. Our visit based itself a lot on the findings of David Pollard, who visited the area in January 2001 (“Cameroon Quest”, Narrow Gauge World N°. 20 – Aug./Sep. 2002).

The largest system in the low-lying southeast of the region connected plantations with the wharf at Tiko (50 km from Douala), from where the products were loaded onto ocean liners. In 1961, it was 147 km long with 11 steam locos (7 German-built O&K and Jung and 4 Hunslet), 22 diesel locos (Ruston and Motor Rail), 361 flat wagons and 59 open wagons. 

The small airfield at Tiko was even rail-connected, with a siding ending right in front of the small terminal. Still located at Tiko is the CDC Central Workshops, which we visited to see some of the remaining locos. Under a small two-road shed we found 0-8-0T+T N°. 203 “Gouverneur Ebermaier” (O&K 7720/1914, new to Westafrikanische Pflanzungsgesellschaft Victoria – WAPV), together with a Robert Hudson bogie coach. The “Gouverneur Ebermaier” had been kept operational for special trains into the 1990s. In 1997 it was brought to Limbe and steamed for the CDC’s 50th Anniversary celebrations. In 2001 it could still be chartered over 7 km of track through Sonne and Pongo plantations. By 2005 some track had been stolen and when a German TV crew had it steamed for a documentary it could only move on a few meters in front of the shed. Since then it was steamed only one more time. 

A few bogie wagon frames were scattered around the area (see below). 

From the shed we were then taken to the sawmill, where we found two diesel locos, Ruston & Hornsby N°. 481 (left, this 249533/1947, Class 48 DL) and a Motor Rail (right) U class (with a plate “117 U 043 – 44 1800”), two bogie wagons and two 3-piece timber truck sets (built by Allens of Tipton). These were said to have been in use between the timber yard and the sawmill until c. 1996, when both diesels had broken down and could not be repaired anymore. Hand-pushed trucks were evidently still in use within the sawmill.

Also still in use was a short section of track, including a turntable, with hand-pushed wagons, connecting two parts of the rubber factory. 

And at Mondoni Palm Oil Mill, northeast of Tiko, rail-mounted cages are used to take the oil palm fresh fruit bunches (FFB) into the sterilizers.

Following our visit to the Central Workshops we went to look at the large bridge just to the north, from where the track used to continue to Sonne and Pongo plantations. The track was still in situ on both sides of the bridge, but had been lifted on top. 

At the CDC Senior Staff Club in Tiko we found plinthed 0-6-0T N°. 202 (Jung 6224/1935, new to Afrikanische Frucht-Companie – AFC) in need of a repaint.

The main line of the second-largest system connected the wharf at Bota, just east of regional capital Limbe (formerly Victoria, 70 km from Douala) with Soppo (650 metres above sea level), just below Buea on the slopes of Mt. Cameroon, over a distance of 27 km. This line was opened by the Westafrikanische Pflanzungsgesellschaft Victoria (WAPV) in 1901 and had gradients of up to 30°/°°. Initially two daily passenger trains were run between Bota and Soppo, after the German governor had set up his residence in Buea, which he favored for its cooler climate over Douala. In 1916, when it was taken over by the British administration, aside from the main line it had a 10 km extension to Molyko and 41 km of branch lines serving 15 plantations, and used seven steam locomotives, of which the “Gouverneur Ebermaier” was the most recent. It later reached a maximal extension of 125 km, extending to Ekona and Mutengene. In 1924 the WAPV was put up for auction and reverted to German ownership and in 1947 became part of CDC. The railway system was in use into the late 1970s. This shows the residual wharf at Limbe with Mount Cameroon behind:

We found three steam locomotives in this area:

0-4-2PT N°. 1 (Hunslet 3756/1952) plinthed at Molyko Banana Plantation, near Buea, in good condition:

0-6-0T N°. 930 (O&K 13028/1937, 50 h.p., new to Likomba Bananen AG) plinthed at Mussora Banana Plantation, Ekona Yard, in poor condition.

0-4-2PT N°. 3 (Hunslet 3758/1952) derelict at the disused Bota Palm Oil Mill, next to Bota wharf, in poor condition:

The two Hunslets are Kerr Stuart “Tamar” class, of which four were built for the CDC (N°. 3756-9/52). At Bota a pair of derelict horizontal stationary steam engines, one of which is shown below:

This is residual rail in the wharf area:

Hand-hauled wire monorails are in use in the banana plantation to bring the banana bunches to the packing plants. The large tanks at the closed Bota Palm Oil Mill are still used for oil storage.

A smaller railway system extended around Idenau, 40 km along the coast north of Limbe. Here we found track remains next to the old dismantled palm oil mill north of town, on the large bridge in the middle of the town and on the wharf, from where motorboats leave for Calabar in Nigeria. A new palm oil mill has been built just south of town, and this also uses rail-mounted cages for its sterilizers (CDC’s recently built third palm oil mill at Illoani uses a system of conveyor belts). We were hoping to find an abandoned Motor Rail U class diesel loco at Soden Camp, 3 km north of Idenau. It was used to serve a palm oil plantation across a river with no road access and is thought to have been the last operating plantation railway in Cameroon. It was abandoned in 1998 after the railway bridge was swept away by the river. Although the loco is officially still on the books, we were informed that the locals had cut it up for scrap.

On the way to Idenau we stopped at a privately owned palm oil mill in Bakingili, just next to Mt. Cameroon’s latest lava flow in 1999, whose owner had bought 0-6-2T N°. 200 (Jung 8370/1938, 45 h.p., new to Afrikanische Frucht-Companie – AFC N°. 372) from CDC in 1997 for use as a stationary boiler. Here too a worker informed us that sadly it had been scrapped about 4 years ago.

We didn’t visit the isolated small systems at Bimbia/Mabeta (southeast of Limbe), Boa Balondo (north of Idenau) and on the Meme River northwest of Mbonge.

The surviving CDC locos are relatively safe, as CDC is aware of their historical value and has no intention of selling or scrapping them. Permission to view them has to be obtained from the General Manager’s Office at the CDC Head Office in Bota (e-mail: info at cdc-cameroon.com, www.cdc-cameroon.com ). All the locations can be visited in a day. Kegan is a Limbe-based taxi driver who knows where all the locos are (cell +237-73515755) and can also pick you up at Douala. After Kribi, Limbe is Cameroon’s most visited tourist area with many hotels, beaches (dark volcanic sand), a Wildlife Centre, the Botanical Gardens and nearby Mt. Cameroon. It is just 1-1.½ hours drive from Douala. 

Two CDC locos were shipped to the U.K. in 1973, where they survive in preservation:

0-6-0T N°. 201 (Jung 3872/1931, 30 h.p., new to Afrikansche Fruchtkompanie – AFC) at the Bredgar & Wormshill Light Railway, Kent, as N°. 2 “Katie”; 
0-6-0T N°. 932 (O&K 12740/1936, new to Likomba Bananen AG) at the Leighton Buzzard N.G. Railway, Bedfordshire, as N°. 5 “Elf”. 

CAMRAIL 

Plinthed in the large main hall of Douala’s modern main station at Bessengué is 600 mm gauge Decauville 8 tonnes 0-6-0T D23 (1808/1922, 03.1925 to Ministère des Colonies). It was formerly plinthed in Kribi (South), where it was found by a CAMRAIL manager six years ago in poor condition. It was brought to Douala and restored before being put on display.


Rob Dickinson

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