Railways Africa

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Gabon was a late starter as far as railways were concerned, the first construction commencing only in 1974. The 1,435mm gauge was chosen as it offered the convenience of off-the-shelf rolling stock purchase. This was despite adjacent countries’ rail lines being incompatible (Cameroon 1,000mm and Congo-Brazzaville 1,067mm), but no connections to these systems were envisaged. The line was begun from the port of Owendo near the capital, Libreville, being intended to serve iron ore mines in the north east around Makokou. Due to a fall in the price of iron ore, it was decided instead to divert the line to Franceville, to poach manganese traffic that was going via the Comilog cableway to the Republic of Congo. The railway was concessioned to Transgabonais (SNBG) in 1998, but the arrangement was cancelled in 2003. Freight traffic covers about 3,000t/km annually. n 2005, interest in iron ore deposits around Makokou resurfaced. A Chinese company, CMEC, is considering the development of a mine at Belinga. It would be connected probably to the existing 1,435mm gauge railway. An Australian company with interest in deposits north of the Cameroon border has published a map showing the railway systems in both countries, including proposed rail lines. It will be interesting to see which routes and which gauges will be chosen.
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