The Eritrean Railway for Railway 32

I've recently fallen in love with the Eritrean Railway from afar thanks to Ralph Reinhold's comprehensive site on TrainWeb. It's an Italian-built 95cm narrow gauge line, mostly single track, running from the port of Massawa up to the plateau that forms most of Eritrea's habitable and arable land. Out of use for almost twenty years during the Ethiopian civil war that ended with the Eritreans winning their independence, the newly independent country has since been rebuilding their railway by their own efforts - in many cases by veteran railway workers well past retirement age! They've been slowly working their way inland from Massawa, relaying the track (which was almost completely destroyed) and renovating the line's antique locomotives and rolling stock.

For antique they are - the Eritrean Railway never completely dieselised, and almost everything on wheels predates the second world war. The major motive power is Italian-built R442 class 0-4-4-0 Mallets, with shunting work done by the tiny R202 class 0-4-0s. Prewar Italian diesel railcars, Fiat Littorinas, were the other way of getting around. Diesels are two Krupp Bo-Bo "hood unit" types and three Drewry shunters. Recently, several Russian-built trucks have been placed on rail wheels as additional motive power, and there is a track-speeder built from a motorcycle.

Future plans for new purchases are not that extravagant - the Eritreans intend to buy new diesel railcars eventually, and place the Littorinas into solely tourist service. This will doubtless be done when the money's available, Eritrea having commendable restraint in avoiding racking up debt.

To make the winding trip up (or especially down!) the mountains more exciting, the trains are not equipped with an automatic brake. Instead they are retarded by the locomotive brakes and hand-brakes on each car, operated by a human brakeman.

Steam Locomotives
R202 R202 The switching workhorse of the Ferrovie Eritrée, eleven of these were built, three in 1927, two in 1929 and six in 1937. All were built by the firm of Ernesto Breda, Milan. Six survive, making them the most prevalent class of locomotive on the post-civil war railway. At least two are operational, with more being restored. The large combined sand and steam dome makes them very distinctive. Before the line's civil war closure, these scurried busily around the port of Massawa, sometimes pulling trains in excess of fifteen cars.
R442 R442 The third and most powerful class of 0-4-4-0 Mallet type locomotives on the Ferrovie Eritrée, four of these locomotives are still in existence, two in working order and one in process of restoration as of 1997 (the latest info I have). Six locomotives were built in 1914 by the Italian firm of Ansaldo.
Krupp Krupp Two Krupp-built B-B diesel-hydraulic locomotives came to the Eritrean Railway in 1957. The largest locomotives the railway owns, both still exist in running order.
Drewry Drewry After the British took Eritrea from the Italians in WW2, additional motive power was brought in in the form of three Drewry shunters. Originally 2ft gauge, they were regauged to 950mm by placing wheels outside the frames, rather than inside as before. Reports differ as to the details of the three: some say all were 0-6-0s, others that one was an 0-4-0. Today, one of them is operable, and this locomotive is depicted. At least one more is awaiting the transplant of a working diesel block. The louvred panels on the side of the engine compartment appear to have long since vanished.
Fiat 025A
Fiat Littorina 025A Between the wars, Fiat produced a successful range of diesel railcars. Based on truck technology, they were small, speedy and economical, and proved ideal for light or narrow gauge systems. In 1935-1936, Fiat delivered 11 railcars to the Eritrean Railway, 6 of which were of this design. Each end had a 115hp diesel engine next to the driver's station, driving the inner axle through a gearbox and propellor shaft; thus, they were of 1A-A1 arrangement. At least 3 still survive, 2 of them being operational. Due to their light weight, more efficient brakes and high power-to-weight ratio, they are faster both climbing and descending than steam-hauled passenger trains.
Passenger Stock
ABTvz ABTvz 1st/2nd composite coach, in the livery of the post-independence Eritrean Railways. Note the brakeman; the train does not have automatic brakes. Some of the windows have wooden screens over them to keep out the intense sunlight.
CTvz CTvz 3rd class coach, in the livery of the post-independence Eritrean Railways. Previously, the color scheme was green with a black roof - not exactly ideal in Eritrea's intensely hot climate.
DTvz DTvz Baggage car. This more than the other two is based on guesswork, since I had no really good picture of one of these cars.
Open Commuter Open commuter & tourist car, built on a 4-wheeled flatcar base. These have been used recently in the Massawa area, pulled by a Drewry shunter.
Freight Stock
Ltv 4-wheel wagon (empty) These 4-wheel wagons were one of the most common cars on the pre-civil war Eritrean Railway.
4-wheel wagon (barup) The 4 wheeled wagons on the FE had a bar that could fold up to support a tarpaulin over the load.
4-wheel wagon (bar, tarpaulin) And here's such a tarpaulin-covered load. I'm not sure what kind of freight would need such a cover - maybe from the rain?
4-wheel wagon (box, tarpaulin) Load of boxes covered by a tarpaulin once more.
Lzv 8-wheel wagon 8-wheel freight car of the Eritrean Railway. These are exactly the same length as the passenger coaches, so I assumed that the truck centers and detail were the same. Colors are pretty much guesswork since I could find no color picture of these. They seem, like all the 8-wheel freight stock, to be much rarer than the 4 wheel. In the modern reconstruction of the railway, though, 8-wheel cars are being given priority since they carry more.
Lzv (green) 8-wheel wagon The same car in the later green scheme.
4-wheel flat 4-wheel flat 4-wheel flatcar of the Eritrean Railway. I have no idea of their Italian class designation. These may have been converted from 4-wheel wagons; I have few good pictures of them to work from, so this is largely based on guesswork.
8-wheel flat 8-wheel flat 8-wheel flatcar of the Eritrean Railway. This one especially contains a lot of guesswork, since I found few pictures of them. They appear to be based on the same underframe as the wagon above, even to the extent of having the same board protecting the brakeman's shelter. They may in fact have been converted from them. I have no idea of their Italian class designation.
Gzv (blue) 8-wheel van 8-wheel van of the Eritrean Railway. These appear to have been of metal construction and have lasted rather well. A fair number have been restored to run on the reopened railway. This example in blue is a restored car; bright colors appear to be the way the revived railway is headed, rather than the drab greys and greens of the pre-civil war company. I've also seen pictures of newly restored cars painted yellow.
Gzv (yellow) 8-wheel van The yellow painted version of the same van. On the reopened railway, these should be more populous than the 4-wheel van, but the proportions were reversed prewar. Photographs don't seem to show any lettering on these repainted cars, though it's possible that they're pictures of cars before the lettering was applied.
Gzv (green) 8-wheel van Before the civil war, the paint scheme for Eritrean Railway cars was green with a black roof - hardly ideal for tropical sun. It's probably a British idea from the years of British rule.
Gv (green) 4-wheel van Before the civil war, these were very common on the Ferrovie Eritrée. After the war, priority has been given to the 8-wheel cars, based on capacity and condition, and these are much rarer.
Mv (green) 4-wheel tank car The final class of freight car on the Eritrean Railway was this 4-wheel tank car. There was no 8-wheeled version. It was probably used to transport diesel, oil, gasoline etc.

Matthew J Brown
Last modified: Fri Mar 15 18:18:16 PST 2002