The International Steam Pages
The Railways of Mali, 2010
Thomas Kautzor reports on his visits in September and November 2010, when he spent a substantial amount of time in West Africa (Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo and Benin). In September I was accompanied by a German railfan friend of mine for a period of three weeks and for the first time this gave me the opportunity to chase some trains by car in order to get lineside shots. Reports on the other countries will follow as time allows. Thomas previously reported on the railways of Senegal and Mali in 2007.
This company continues to operate freight traffic between Dakar (Senegal) and Bamako (Mali), a distance of 1233 km. Majority shareholder (51%) of Transrail, founded in 2007 to take over from the previous operator, Canadian Canac (2003-06), is food company Advens (owned by Franco-Senegalese businessman Abbas Jaber), while the remaining shares are held by the states of Senegal and Mali (10% each), private investors (20%) and Transrail’s employees (9%). Railway operations are in the hands of Vecturis (Belgium), who also operate Madarail in Madagascar. Since August 2007, Transrail has been in receivership, a situation which has impacted negatively on railway operations due to the inability to procure new equipment and spare parts.
Already from the start of operations in 2007, Transrail was faced with a hole in its finances. In October 2010 former operator Canac was ordered by the Malian justice to back CFA 3 billion for money siphoned away during its tenure of the railway. The main problem facing Transrail has been the failure of its minority shareholders and major customers (mainly state-owned corporations) to meet their pledges for funds and to pay the pay the company for its services. As a result of this Advens itself has held back funds it pledged to invest into the company. Transrail therefore finds itself in a dire financial situation and has been unable to invest any funds to renew the railway’s crumbling infrastructure and equipment.
Presently the objective is to have one daily departure from each end of the line, however due to the negative situation trains can take up to a week to reach the other end of the line. In case of loco failure and when no spare locos are available (which is the case most of the time), the loco of the following train is used to haul the train that has failed. Although derailments have been reduced from 20 to 10 per months since 2007, they are still too frequent. Out of 20 main line diesel locomotives, only 12 are operational on average. According to Transrail present traffic levels amount to 400,000 t./year, however according to the Malian ministry of transportation only 270,152 tons transited by rail in 2009, compared to 1.34 million tons by road on the Dakar-Mali axis (which amounts to 40% of Mali’s transit traffic).
A study on the financial situation of Transrail was to be completed in December and a meeting of the railway’s shareholders and creditors was to take place in Paris on the 13th to decide on Transrail’s future and see how its debt can be reduced. The railway is certainly vital to the economy of Mali (more so than for Senegal).
Presently most traffic is general goods in closed wagons and containers, including construction materials for import and cotton from Mali for export. New cement factories, which are being constructed near Kayes and Bamako by WACEM, will mean new traffics of clinker from Senegal. If Mali’s major mining projects (alumina and bauxite for CAMEC, iron ore for Arcelor Mittal) materialize, the potential of goods to be transported by rail will increase from 1.2 million tons per year to 10-20 million tons. In that case Transrail will become a very attractive company.
At Kati (km 1218), all eastbound trains are split into two and taken down the steep gradient into Bamako (km 1233) separately in order to prevent runaways. In the opposite direction the trains are sometimes double-headed (when a locomotive is available). At Bamako station there are four ex-SNCF coaches (3x DEV AO, 1x USI) which can be used as braking power on the stretch from Kati. In September 125-ton Gootwald break-down crane 2029918 (GS125.07 H, 142049/1992) was found at Kati, from where it supposedly operated a number of sorties as witnessed by a number of damaged wagons at Kati station and off the tracks between there and Bamako (these even included Korofina works’ break-down van).
The little Pinguely 0-6-0T (No. 143/1902, 15 t., ex Markala dam construction, ex C.F. du Morbihan No. 14) formerly stored at Korofina workshops in Bamako has been restored/repainted and is now plinthed in front of the Transrail headquarters close to Bamako station.
In September the Transrail fleet included the following locos:
The “International Express” between Senegal and Mali has been suspended since the summer of 2009. The only service presently operated is between Bamako and Kayes (737 km), and this is operated by the Malian Ministry of Transportation. Between Bamako and Kayes there is strong competition from the road, where ticket prices are a bit higher but traveling times are shorter, however many of the towns in between are not reached by the road network. Locos and rolling stock is owned by the Ministry, while operations and maintenance have been subcontracted to Transrail. None of the regauged ex-SNCF coaching stock remains in revenue service and beside presidential coach 2950006/SS6 (SNCF DEV AO) only a few are stored/dumped at Korofina workshops. All passenger rolling stock in use is from India.
In September there was one set of coaches in use, painted in two-toned blue (“Rame Bleue” = RB), with three weekly pairs of trains. From October 18, 2010 a second set of yellow and green coaches was put into service (“Rame Jaune” = RJ), allowing for the following timetable:
Train 12 is Bamako-Kayes, 13 the return service. Trains depart at 07.15 according to the schedule and take all day to reach their destination. The following diesel locos are available for traction:
(a) ex Indian Railways, refurbished at Golden Rock works Oct. 2006.
ML1-ML3 are new end cab diesels with an output of 2300 h.p.. One other unit was delivered to Senegal for haulage of the “International Express” and cape gauge versions have been delivered to Angola and Sudan. The MLs have replaced the two ex-Argentina EMD GT22CU-2s on passenger duties and these have been leased to Transrail. 6370 was previously on stand-by duties, but has been pressed into passenger service with the introduction of the new timetable. 6370 carries the RCFM two-tone blue livery, while the MLs carry a yellow and green one.
The “Rame Bleue” consists of six 2nd class non-aircon coaches, out of a total of ten (Nos. 2020200-09) delivered in 2007 (together with the YDM-4), and two baggage vans converted from covered goods wagons. The coaches were refurbished at RCF Kapurthala prior to delivery.
The “Rame Jaune” consists of five 2nd class coaches and on 1st class air conditioned coach, a generator van and baggage van. These are part of a large order of 28 coaches delivered in 2008 together witht the three ML locos. After their arrival they were however left stored in Dakar and have suffered from vandalism and theft as a result. After their transfer to Mali earlier this year they needed substantial work before being placed back in service, with one 1st class, eight 2nd class, three baggage vans and one generator van having been refurbished as of mid-November 2010. The total order consisted of the following coaches:
When not in use, the passenger train sets are stored and maintained at the washing facility just west of Bamako station, close to the former running diesel shed.
A convention has recently been signed between the ministries of transportation of Mali, Senegal and Transrail to reintroduce the “International Express” once enough coaches have been restored.
My visit in November coincided with the Moslem Eid al-Adha holiday, and as a result passenger workings had been suspended for a few days. The “Rame Bleue” was however to be used on Friday the 19th to take Christians to an annual pilgrimage to Kita (km 1047), returning on Monday 22nd. This was to be followed by a special train on Saturday 20th, returning the next day, composed of the presidential coach and a baggage van, used to ferry the Bishop of Bamako and the envoy from the Holy See to the pilgrimage.
Tramways de Bamako:
The present government of Mali is trying hard to have Bamako become the first West African city with a modern tramway. This project is being developed with the help of Strasbourg municipality in France. A study has determined that the route with the most potential to help solve some of the capital’s traffic problems would start in front of the railway station, run in a southeasterly direction through the central business district, cross the Niger River on the Pont de Badala, and continue along Avenue de l’Unité Africaine OUA to the Tour de l’Afrique roundabout, a distance of appreciatively 10 km. From there, the line would split off to the northwest and southeast to serve rapidly developing new suburbs.
Lohr Industrie’s Translohr rubber-tired tram system with a central guiding rail seems to be a favorite at this point, and it is estimated that 20 type STE6 vehicles with a capacity of 450 passengers each would be needed. The presidency would like construction to start as soon as 2011, however the question of financing would have to be covered first.
Pinguely steam locomotive in front of the Transrail HQ, Bamako, 10th September 2010:
Left, ML1 with train 13 arriving from Kayes and CC 2419 with a goods train for Dakar, Bamako, 11th September 2010
Right, CC 2411 & dead 2412 on arrival from Senegal, Kati, 10th September 2010
Left, ML1 with train 12 Bko-Kys, Négala, 11th September 2010
Right, CC 2204 & 2205, Korofina, 11th September 2010
Left, X 1 (ex Argentina), Korofina, 11th September 2010
Right, ML2, Korofina, 11th September 2010
Left, YDM-4 6370, Korofina, 11th September 2010
Right, presidential coach 2950006 (ex SNCF), Korofina, 11th September 2010
Left, CC 2282, Korofina, 11th September 2010
Right, ML2, Korofina, 11th September 2010
Left, CC 2209 with Dkr-Bko, Négala, 12th September 2010
Right, ML1 with train 13 Kys-Bko, Kayes, 14th September 2010
Left, ML1 with train 13 Kys-Bko, Kayes, 14th September 2010
Right, Hotel de la Gare, Kayes, 14th September 2010
Left, CC 2420 & 2411 between Kati & Bamako, 15th September 2010
Right, Althom CC 1691, Korofina, 19th November 2010.