Sierra Leone railway – the stolen national treasure

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 July 2019:

Sierra Leone’s railway was a national asset that was stolen from its people. Before Sierra Leone’s national railway was finally shut down in 1975 by the APC government of president Siaka P. Stevens, it passed through 49 train stations – all connected by an overall total of 600-kilometers distance of rail-tracks, divided along three lines.

The first line which connected the Water Street Train Station in Freetown to the Bauya Train Station, passed through 14 other stations at Dove Court, Cline Town, Fisher Lane, Kissi, Wellington, Allen Town, Hastings, Rokel, Waterloo, Newton, Songo, Mabang, Bradford and Rotifunk.

The second line connected Bauya to Maken, passed through 13 stations, that included Malachi, Nwala, Mabinti, Matsuri, Makasi, Mate, Mafuma, off-Yonibana, Masuba, Magbolo, Masang, Magbass, and Magburaka.

The third line connected Bauya to Pendembu passed through 19 other stations at Yoyema, Moyamba, Levuma, Kangahun, Mogbaseke, Mano, Tabe, Kondiama, Bo, Gerihun, Yamandu, Baoma, Blama, Kenema, Hangha, Komende, Segbwema, Daru, and Baima.

All 49 stations were served by two types of trains: The Goods Train (sub divided into the Locomotive and Steam cargo trains) which transported large and heavy consignments of economic commodities such as cocoa, coffee, oil palm, “Banga”, Piassava, among others; and the Passenger Train (sub divided into the Express and Normal passenger trains) which transported people in their thousands every day of the week.

In terms of impact, the Sierra Leone railway company alone employed a minimum of 10,000 Sierra Leoneans at any given time from 1961-1971.

Moreover, the 49 train stations served by the Sierra Leone railway were the engines of economic growth that drove the creation of employment for an estimated 1.5 million rural dwellers out of the country’s estimated 2.5 to 3 million people, during the first decade of independence.

Within that period, agriculture accounted for over 80% of rural employment; and it contributed to 70% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Also, within that same period, the agricultural boom triggered by the transportation services of the railway did not only serve as an “employment creator”, but also served as a “wealth creator”.

Sierra Leoneans not only earned incomes to make ends meet, they actually earned incomes to make wants meet.

The Sierra Leone National Railway was built in 1893 and changed the nature of society.

It enabled the transportation of passengers and goods between the country’s interior and the capital Freetown and its sea port.

At independence in 1961 the railway was well equipped and was a significant employer.

What madness befell our leaders in 1975. That same mentality of – “Ee don ole nar for troway”, still exists in Sierra Leone today – no sense of the importance of heritage and economic value.

 

 

26 Comments

  1. @ Momodu: Do you mean that Sierra Leoneans bought the R/W? I am not as young as you think. In the pic. above you can see the train on a hill towards Tabe (Mamagewoh) is the name of that slope.

  2. Siaka Stevens and all his descendants should rot in hell for all the evil he did to Mama Salone.

  3. As it was in the bigging so shall it be in the end. The train was in sierra leone and it will come again. 80% of what it takes to make a train is from Sierra Leone. We are the third country after Guinea and Australia, so it is all about the political will to bring it back.

  4. Dear Alphonso,

    For virgin terrain, a rough rule of thumb for a complete new railway would be about £1.5 million per mile. Urban areas would be about £2.0 million per mile. I would build a line from roughly the area of Fisher Lane – there being more room to construct a major terminus there than in the city centre – direct to Bo. The Makeni branch would probably start in the area of Waterloo rather than branching off at Bauya Junction as it did in the old days. Using that as a ROUGH start point, costs might stack up as follows:

    Fisher Lane to Waterloo (effectively urban) 8 miles = £16 million
    Waterloo to Bo (rural) 97 miles = £145.5 million
    Waterloo to Makeni (rural) 95 miles = £142.5 million
    Infrastructure allowance (bridges, track etc) = £300 million (estimate)
    Stations = £100 million (estimate)
    Signalling Systems = £50 million
    Contingency = £100 million

    Grand Total = £854 million.

    On top of that you would need to buy the trains, starting point might be about £500 million to equip the line.

    This gets you a medium speed (75 mph) basic single track railway with passing places. Freight capacity (sidings etc) would be additional.

    These figures are a rough estimate but hopefully give you an idea. Essentially you could buy a game-changing transport sustem for about £1.5 Billion which is actually good value.

    Hope this provides food for thought,

    Regards, Steve

    • Hello “Steve” please let them know what it costs: The R/W was a very good thing but we missed the oppotunity, now it has to take some time to achieve that Dream.
      Thank you Sir.

  5. Could the author of this piece let me know where the colour photo of the Steam Locomotive and train came from? We have an extensive range of photographs in the archive at the National Railway Museum in Cline Town and I have not seen this one which is excellent. Is it part of a collection? Thanks.

    Colonel Steve Davies MBE, President Friends of the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum.

    • Hello Sir, I grew up up in Bo at the time of the R/W, I remember they used to call the locomotive a Garratt, do no know if correct. I guess I know the location of the train in the pic. #1, it is towards Tabe from Bo at a place called “Mamangewoh”, a hill.

  6. Mr. Alphonso Johnson, Sierra Leone will need a minimum of US$4 Billion Dollars for a new railway project. The SGR railway project in Kenya was about US$3,6 Billion Dollars. The Chinese bought the rails and other materials very cheap. Now, the Chinese should just do a moral favour by using a portion of their enormous foreign reserve to construct our railway. They helped DISMANTLE it so, they should help rebuild it. It’s just a Moral obligation on the part of the Chinese. Finally, I hope the Chinese listen.

    • Thanks Sir, and someone (Momodu Koroma ) was trying to deny that it was not the Chinese who bought the rains from S.L.

  7. Let us get rid of these career politicians in order to move our country forward. SLPP and APC will have to go now!

  8. Bring back our railway service now! We need to reignite our economy fast. We HAVE to Vote or literally kick both SLPP and APC out of power asap!

  9. Sir, the railway was closed over the period 1968 – 1974 (starting with the Makeni branch) progressively being cut back to a Freetown-Songo rump. Trains continued into 1975 despite official closure the previous year. Closure was a condition of a World Bank loan, but undoubtedly a degree of shady practice was involved.

    Its closure was a spectacular National own-goal. The bulk of the scrap went to Japan. Fortunately the railway can be remembered at the Country’s National Railway Museum in Cline Town, which is now Africa’s finest. I established the Museum in 2004-5 during my time as a military advisor to President Kabbah’s Government, His Excellency then being a major supporter of the initiative, and I continue regular involvement today in my role as President of a UK charity which supports the Museum.

    Today’s Sierra Leone Government is to be commended for continuing to support this priceless aspect of the Nation’s culture and heritage. As to a new railway, it’s perfectly possible but I would build it to the international Standard Gauge (the old railway was narrow gauge) and on a new alignment.

    The original line was tortuous, twisting and steep which kept the speed down to no more than 25 mph. It should be perfectly possible to connect Bo with Freetown as an initial project, looking perhaps to Makeni as a second phase.

    Colonel Steve Davies MBE, President Friends of the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum.

    • Colonel Stephen thank you for educating us about what happened to our railway. Good information. And I am even happier that you believe we can have a new railway. If I may quote you, you said: “As to a new railway, it’s perfectly possible but I would build it to the international Standard Gauge (the old railway was narrow gauge) and on a new alignment. The original line was tortuous, twisting and steep which kept the speed down to no more than 25 mph. It should be perfectly possible to connect Bo with Freetown as an initial project, looking perhaps to Makeni as a second phase.”

      In your opinion colonel, how much do you think it will cost roughly to have those two line between Freetown and Makeni, and Freetown and Bo? Also what roughly would be the cost for each of those two routes? Not exact figures, just rough estimates. Thank you. Much appreciated.

  10. I travelled a lot on the train from Freetown to Moyamba and will surely welcome it back. Deleting the railway infrastructure was the most hazardous mistake made by any government in Sierra Leone; and the damaging results we are still experiencing 44 years later in our daily lives.

    But please, please fellow Country People, let us don’t start to compare the railway lines to the Lungi bridge, because these are two completely different infrastructures with completely different planning concepts. Lets start with the bridge and then the railway lines (two major infrastructural projects).

    We have the resources needed to service our debts and what we need now are sustainable development VISIONS and GOOD GOVERNANCE. THE RAILWAY MUST COME BACK TO SALONE, not only for the mining industry but also for you and me.

  11. A new railway will represent a significant investment for the nation. I have often asked the question, where are all our rich folks? This does not have to be bundled and thrown on the government. If only our rich people cared about their nation and people. This is a project which a couple or few rich folks of S/L could partner up and undertake. Must we wait for another nation to do it? Must we wait for the Chinese again to come and construct the railway and operate it for 10, 20 years before we can claim it?

    I think it’s time for us to start calling out the rich of our nation. They take and take and take and save in overseas banks. They never think, let’s invest in our nation so that the money can circulate and our people can benefit. The nations or investors that come to Sierra Leone, come in and take out. If they spend one million, think of how much they’re taking out.

    Sadly the home based rich folks don’t seem to even want to take a chance in the nation for fear of instability. They’re worse than the investors who come and take.

    Some of us travel and see. Other nations are not advanced because the government is doing everything. Those nations are advanced because the rich are building companies/factories, sponsoring technological advancement. They’re taking initiatives going outside, taking and bringing it in to better their nations and people. This lifts up to a great extent some of the burden on the government and helps them to focus on other issues. Governments even leverage companies/institutions of their nations to create certain opportunities.

    In Sierra Leone, our rich only invest in big cars and building big houses. Wearing big gowns and suits and ties; and love to be called “Pa”, “Bra”, “chief”, “honorable Dr” etc… standing over their people like a colossus figure watching their country men pass through their huge legs feeling dishonourable.

    Maybe it’s time we start the idolizing of the rich. Give praise where it’s due and certainly call out those who just want to showoff they have big cars and houses.

    We must start trusting in the progress of our nation. We will not change the world’s perception about our nation by giving long speeches or traveling overseas and asking investors to come in. Our situation will start to change the day we stand up and start taking action. Our work, our action internally, will change perception and invite long term investors.

    Let the rich too stand up and show us that they care about their nation and its people. The country has given to you, turn around and give back. Before you put your money in overseas bank, build a bank in Sierra Leone and save your money there. By doing so, you put your brothers and sisters to work.

    Whatever the case maybe, find something in the nation and invest in it, not just to make money, but to promote the wellbeing of the nation and your countrymen.

    This railway is a major investment that can have a great payday. And indeed boost the nation.

  12. As I wrote before, the respective inept and corrupt APC administrations dismantled all economic engines that were put in place by the colonial and SLPP administrations. APC, you guys did a good job of robbing the people of Sierra Leone.

  13. With out the railway there will be no freedom. Any political party that has the intention of doing anything to make the nation great again, must make sure that the railway is brought back and the service works efficiently.

  14. Sir, as I was reading your story about the railway in Sierra Leone. Tears was pouring from my eyes. I have always said to my friends that’s money is not our problem. In Sierra Leone we just lack visionary and competent leaders, who have long term vision for the country.

    It would be great if you guys can start a campaign to bring back our railway, as this have the potential to transform mama Salone.

  15. Well our country doesn’t like or know that repairing value and history subject is for fun.

  16. It’s possible if really the government want to make that happen; and I guess that will be a great achievement and improvement towards our economy and the future of our country.

  17. Illiteracy, common sense, ignorance, ego, literate but illiterate,bad leadership by choosing the wrong leaders bad governance, all these and more others are damaging our country.

  18. The funny thing about it is that it was the Chinese who bought the Railway (at least that is what I can remember at my young age). They took almost every Piece of iron away. It is one of the saddest things ever that has happened in S.L. (Like the Rebel War, Mud slides and Ebola)

    • Fast speed or bullet trains will not be bad if the country can afford them by way of possible partnership with outside investors. Meanwhile, road connectivity, which ensures that as many areas of the country are linked by all-weather roads, can be a major driver of growth and development in and otherwise resource-rich country.

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