The International Steam Pages
Organisation Commune Bénin-Niger des Chemins de fer et des Transports (OCBN)
Thomas Kautzor reports on his visit from December 15th to 17th 2007 and gives some historical background - definitely no current steam here!
This bi-national organisation operates, on behalf of the states of Benin (renamed from Dahomey in 1975) and Niger, the 438 km long metre-gauge railway line from Benin’s economic capital and commercial port of Cotonou east to Pahou (km 25) and then north to Parakou. The railway is located wholly in Benin, but one of the long-standing and never achieved objectives is to extend it by 650 km to Niamey, the capital of Niger, as three-quarters of Niger’s exports are channeled through the port of Cotonou. Construction of this line, the central Dahoméen, started in 1900 and reached Attogon (km 65) in September 1902. Savé (km 261) was reached in 1912, with completion to Tchaourou (km 380) and Parakou in 1933/34.
From Pahou (km 25), a 33 km long branch opened in 1906 went west to Ouidah (km 40) and Ségboroué (km 58), on the shores of Lake Ahémé. This branch was closed in the early 1990s.
Prior to 1930, both the ‘Central Dahoméen’ and the branch to Ségboroué were both operated by the “Compagnie Française des C.F. du Dahomey”.
Another company, the “C.F. de Porto Novo à Pobé” operated the ‘Est Dahoméen’, a 107 km long line running east from Cotonou along the coast to Benin’s political capital, Porto Novo (km 35), and then north along the Nigerian border to Pobé. It was opened as far as Kouti (km 54) in 1907 and to Pobé in 1912. There was also a small 9 km long branch from Lagbé (km 64) to Sakété opened in 1908. This line was closed in 1990, except for the short section between Cotonou and Akakpa (km 2), where there are a number of industrial sidings. After leaving Cotonou station, the railway runs on the street and then crosses the lagoon on a long rail-road bridge. This section is now disused after OCBN lost the contract to carry petrol from a storage facility here to the north of the country. The line between Cotonou and Porto Novo was rehabilitated and briefly reopened between January and July 1999, while the main highway along the coast and on to Nigeria was undergoing rehabilitation work, but following completion of this it was again abandoned.
Traffic on OCBN:
Although OCBN could once be considered as one of the better-off railways in West Africa, this has changed for the worse.
Passenger services have been suspended since March 2007 due to the lack of operating motive power. Prior to this, the railway used to operate a thrice-weekly (formerly daily) pair of passenger trains covering the line in 11 hours (trains Nos. 33/32), as well as twice-weekly (formerly thrice-weekly) night train pairs which included a ‘couchette’ coach.
Goods traffic has also declined to an extent that it now represents an insignificant share in volume of transit goods to Niger and in Benin’s internal transports. This is due mainly to the harsh competition from trucks and the decline in the quality of service by the railway. During my visit to Cotonou, an arriving goods train from Parakou consisted of one single-flat wagon with two 20’ containers and three covered wagons of charcoal for the local market. The railway also has to deal with an oversized and heavily syndicated workforce.
The headquarters and workshops of the railway are at Cotonou station. Here, a new rail-linked container depot has recently opened, operated by Maersk Sealand.
At the beginning, both railway companies operated with tank engines with the following wheel arrangements: 0-4-0T, 0-6-0T, 2-6-0T and 4-6-0T. After WWII, three Corpet-Louvet 2-8-2s were delivered, one of which was later transferred to the Dakar-Niger railway. Steam traction was eliminated at the end of the 1950s with the introduction of diesel locomotives and railcars.
‘Locotracteurs’ and diesel locomotives:
BB 201 was ex Abidjan-Niger in 1953. BB 301-5 were originally numbered BB 121-5.
BB 501 was transferred to Togo around 1965, were it still exists derelict in Lomé.
BB 618 and a second unit (BB 612/4) were sent to Canada for remanufacturing/upgrading by Canada Allied Diesel Co. Ltd., Lachine, Quebec, in 2004. Since then BB 618 has returned (but not turned a wheel), while at the time of my visit it was said that an agreement had been found over the return of the second unit.
BB 701/2 were delivered remanufactured by CFD Industries in 1995. They are ex-CP 9002/3 (Portugal), 1975 ex-FC de Tajuna 1023/4 (Spain). Both were used to shunt the harbour at Cotonou.
‘Autorails’ / Diesel railcars :
The Renault railcars were introduced to take over passenger services on the main central line. ZM 115-7 were obtained second-hand ex-Dakar-Niger. The ZM 111-4/7 were equipped with a bar. 33 units of the same type in total were delivered to French colonial railways in West and Central Africa, and the last remaining example of these, ZM 124 was still present, derelict, in Cotonou about 8 years ago. There had been a failed attempt by a French museum railway to acquire it and bring it back to France. Since then, ZM 124 has been cut and sold for scrap piece by piece by OCBN workers.
Motive power situation – Dec. 2007:
BB 612 and 614 were not seen. One is still away in Canada, while the second might have been scrapped. According to staff, apart from BB 619, which later came in on a goods train from Parakou, there were no other diesel locomotives out on the line. The second serviceable engine, BB 621, was used to shunt the yard and harbour sidings. Also according to staff, no locotracteurs remain at Parakou.
Some of the diesel locomotives still carry builders’ plates, although some might have been interchanged over the years: AA 83 (Moyse No. 1459/1979), BB 611 (Alsthom 1970), BB 613 (1976), BB 615/21 (1978), BB 618/20/2 (1980), BB 701 (1965) and BB 702 (1967).
The burned-out remains of one Alsthom/Soulé ZE 130 railcar, as well the cut-off front part of another, remain dumped.
Draisines SZ 905/10/12 and Matisa tamper SZ 911 were not seen, but some and possibly all must still be present. SZ 910 is used to haul the ‘Train d’Ebène’, while the tamper was restored to working order in 2007.
Rolling stock situation – Dec. 2007:
Passenger stock stored or derelict at Cotonou:
Goods rolling stock consists of metal bogie wagons of the usual types, with a large share of covered vans. Derelict at Cotonou are two early four-wheel covered vans, one wooden and the second numbered G 7 metallic. Stored at Cotonou station was refectory car SX 20293, clearly transformed from an old wooden coach. A four-wheel hand crane stands derelict at Allada station.
“Train d’Ebène” (Ebony Train) tourist train:
This train, started in 2005, consists of two restored wooden coaches, one the former general manager’s saloon and the other a covered wagon converted into a bar, hauled by a rented OCBN draisine. Both coaches were bought and restored at Pahou station by the owner of a small hotel chain. The train runs about twice a month during the tourist season, from October to April. On a typical tour, the tourists are taken by bus to Pahou (km 25), where they board the train to Bohicon (km 127), from where a visit is arranged to Abomey. In the afternoon the train continues to Dassa-Zoumé (km 204), where the night is spent. On the second day, the train continues all the way to Parakou, from where the tourists continue their tour by road.
A third wooden coach, the former presidential saloon No. SS5, has been acquired, but it has yet to be restored and is in very bad condition at Cotonou station.
The owner of the ‘Train d’Ebène’ has many projects, including having the branch line to Ségboroué restored in order to be able to run tourist trains from Cotonou to Ouidah, which is a major tourist destination due to its past role in the transatlantic slave trade. He would also like to restore the station at Ségboroué and turn it into a railway-themed hotel. Still present here are the two-story station building, the goods transfer shed, the turntable and the water tower. Another project that is being studied is to bring over one or both of the Indian 4-6-2 YPs owned by the Railroad Development Corporation (RRDC) and stored at Lomé in neighboring Togo, in order to start running steam trains for tourists.
Narrow gauge (600 mm) railways:
The first narrow gauge railway in Benin was the “C.F. d’Abomey-Bohicon-Zagnanado (ABC)”. This railway connected with the ‘Central Dahoméen’ at Bohicon (km ), where it had its own station. One line went 9 km west to Abomey (the former capital of the Dahomey Kingdom). The other line went from Bohicon east to Cové and Zangnanado, a distance of 40 km. Both lines were opened in 1927 and closed c1947.
The second narrow gauge railway was the “C.F. du Mono” and consisted of a 27 km long line from the western railhead at Ségboroué via Comé and Adjaha to Hévé, a village that was linked by ferry to Grand Popo, the first colonial capital of Dahomey, located not far from the border with Togo. A 46 km long branch along the Togolese border linked Adjaha with Sazué and Athiémé. This railway was opened in 1931/33 and closed on September 19, 1947. However, the 10 km section from Ségboroué to Comé, the site of a quarry, was closed at a later date. Until a few years ago, before the highway was relaid, embedded sections of track could still be seen on two road bridges just west of Ségboroué. At Hévé, the station building on the shore of the Mono River is still standing, recognizable by its ticket window. After closure the building was for a time used as a primary school.
These railways at least had 11 steam locomotives in common between the two. In 1933 three Decauville 0-6-0+0-6-0 Mallets were transferred from the Moroccan military railways (Nos. 16.1-16.3), followed by another five units (Nos. 16.4-16.8) in 1939 (37 units were delivered to Morocco between 1912 and 1927). Later they were renumbered 18.501-18.508, and all were still in use at the closure of the lines in 1948.
A number of small industrial narrow gauge railways existed, mostly hand-pushed. However, the line serving the first wharf at Cotonou was using a 0-4-0T steam locomotive.