The International Steam Pages

Camrail, Cameroon, 2012

Thomas Kautzor writes on his visit to CAMRAIL between 28th February and 4th March 2012:- don't read it hoping for a steam element, there isn't any. I include this on my site as part of my policy of disseminating information about obscure railways worldwide.

The former ‘Régie Nationale des Chemins de Fer du Cameroun’ (RNCFC) was privatized and concessioned to CAMRAIL ( from 1st April 1999. The majority shareholder in CAMRAIL is the French Bolloré – Africa Logistics group, who also operate SITARAIL between Abidjan and Ouagadougou in Africa.


The Cameroonian rail network is made up of two lines, each with a branch.

The Western line was opened by the Germans (Kameruner-Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft Berlin) from Bonaberi (across the Wourri estuary from Douala) to Nkongsamba (160.0 km) between 1909-11. In 1955 it was linked to the rest of the network by a 10.3 km line crossing the Wourri on a road-rail bridge. In 1965/69 29.0 km long branch linked Mbanga (76 km from Douala) to Kumba, a large market town in the English-speaking Western Province. Only the branch between Mbanga and Kumba sees daily passenger service, the line from Douala to Mbanga is used twice weekly for stock transfer (no freight service).

The Transcamerounais I between Douala and Yaoundé was started by the Germans (Kameruner-Mittellandbahn) in 1913 and by the outbreak of WWI construction had reached Eséka (km 173.6). In 1920 the French continued work, eventually reaching Yaoundé (km 306.4) in 1927. In 1927 a 36.7 km long 600mm gauge branch was opened between Otélé and Mbalmayo, using locos and stock used during construction by the Germans. In 1933 the branch was converted to metre gauge, it is now closed. In the 1980s the line between Douala and Yaoundé was rebuilt with German aid and it is now 44 km shorter than originally (putting Yaoundé at km 263), with new bridges, tunnels, etc… The old line as well as old bridges (including the impressive Sanaga bridge at Edéa) can still be seen from the train at many places.

The Transcamerounais II between Yaoundé (km 306.4), Belabo (km 601.1) and Ngaoundéré (km 935.0) was built between 1968 and 1974, also with German aid, to open up the eastern and northern parts of the country. Up to now there is no through tarred road to Ngaoundéré, however that is currently under construction and once completed the railway will lose in significance.

Motive power:

The following classes remains in service with CAMRAIL:

ZE 501 – 505 M+R: Alsthom 1976 DMU-2s which were obtained 2nd hand from CP Portugal in 2005. Their motorization was too weak for the incline between Eséka and Makak, so the power units were fitted with new MAN D.2842 LE 604 engines. They are able to reach 90 km/h and have 1st/2nd class seating arrangements (M 18/24 + R -/52). They are used in pairs exclusively on the morning IC services between Douala and Yaoundé.

BB 1000s: These are centre-cab Bo-Bo DE built by Moyse (BBF68P) in 1978/79 (MGO V12 ASHR 800 hp engines, 68 tons). Only BB 1039 (in green livery) of this class survives, used as a shunter at Douala.

BB 1101 – 1120: Centre-cab Bo-Bo DE built by Alsthom in 1981 (MGO V12 ASHR 12 870 hp engines, 68 tons). A large number of units of this class were seen in use in local passenger and shunting service.

BB 1201 – 1213: Bo-Bo DE built by Alsthom (AD12B) in 1968-73 (MGO V16 ASHR 1200 hp engines, 56 tons). Three of these remain in service (1205/7/10). They are used on works trains and goods trains to the harbor at Douala.

CC 2201 – 2230: Co-Co DE built by MLW/Bombardier (MX620) in 1980 (M6113-1 to 20) and 1982/83 (M6124-1 to 10), with Alco V12 251-C4 2200/2400 engines (101 tons). These were seen on the freight trains and the night train between Yaoundé and Ngaoundéré. According to one loco driver the best locos that Cameroon has ever had.

CC 2601 – 2606: these six locos were obtained 2nd hand from South Africa, they are thought to be ex-SPOORNET 34-619/44/55/60/61/84. A total of one hundred of this model Co-Co DE were built by GM South Africa (GT26MC) in 1975/76 (101.01-100). According to a loco driver they are very unreliable and only a single unit was operational at the time of our visit. He said that after each trip out on the line they had to spend time in the workshops to fix something.

The CC 2600s have sometimes been mistaken for the nine class 35.2 that were on lease from SPOORNET between 2000 and 2003. ST 35.224-29/43-45 were GM GT18MC built 1974-76 (1650 hp, 82 tons) and all have been returned to South Africa.

CC 3301 – 3302: Co-Co DE built by NREC (GT26CU / E3000-CUN) in 2009 (3300 hp, 102 tons). Used in freight service, according to a loco driver they were a disappointment despite all of their electronics as they tended to slip in wet weather (which is frequent in Central Africa) on steep gradients and despite their higher power could only haul as much tonnage as the CC 2200s.

* Since this visit in early 2012, CAMRAIL have also received CC 2501 – 2504 (Co-Co DE, NREC E2300-CUN 2012).

There are diesel depots at Douala-Bassa, Yaoundé, Bélabo and Ngaoundéré. The two-road depot at Eséka is out-of-use, however a BB 1100 is based there to bank goods trains on the steep incline to Makak. The main workshops are at Douala-Bassa. We were not able to visit these, but were told that any old/historic/interesting locos or stock would have been cut up for scrap.

Apart from oldtimer BB 1039, the only loco not in red and white CAMRAIL livery that we saw was CC 2228 (green with yellow stripe).

Passenger trains:

Mbanga – Kumba:

This service was introduced a few years ago after the road bridge on the coastal highway between Douala and English-speaking Western Province collapsed. The road north from Mbanga to Loum and Kumba is 72 km, so the railway is a shortcut. After the bridge had been rebuilt, the service was kept, as it still allowed people traveling from Douala to Kumba to transfer from taxi to train at Mbanga and get to Kumba faster than by road. The service also serves local communities between the two towns. A BB 1100 together with two coaches and a boxcar are used. Only as many tickets as there are seats are sold, no standing. There are no servicing facilities at either Kumba or Mbanga, so twice a week the train (Sundays & Wednesdays) the train returns to Douala for fueling and servicing, returning to Mbanga the following morning. It ends/starts at Douala’s main station, not at Bonaberi as indicated in the link above (that was only the case while there was construction going on with the Wourri road-rail bridge).

Douala – Yaoundé:

IC21/IC22 are composed of pairs of ex-Portugal DMU-2s (4 cars total), which are air-conditioned and comfortable, and usually run on time, including when we travelled on it between Douala and Yaoundé;

Omnibus 3/4: composed of a BB 1100, a single coach and a boxcar, it has a very low priority and also stops at any number of flag stops. We were told it usually gets arrives at its terminal around midnight;

Express 181/184: composed of a BB 1100, a passenger coach, a dining car (used as coach due to rolling stock shortage) and a baggage van, on the day we travelled on it between Yaoundé (13.00) and Douala (19.30), it was 3 hours late when we bailed out at Edéa (18.00 vs 21.00).

Yaoundé – Ngaoundéré:

Night train 191/192: This is composed of a CC 2200 and about 20 coaches. We had initially planned to travel on it, but luckily gave up as we later found out the train we would have travelled on derailed and was delayed 6 hours. Because there are no tarred roads between Yaoundé and Ngaoundéré, the train is very popular and often sold out days in advance. Speculators and some travel agencies also buy tickets which they then resell at a higher price. On the train, ticket agents for the big northern bus companies sell tickets for onward travel to the towns in the North. The road between Ngaoundéré and Bélabo is currently under construction and once it opens up Camrail will suffer from harsh competition from the big bus companies.

Omnibus 12/13: we were told that this local train is composed of a BB 1100, a couple of coaches and a boxcar.

Freight trains:

We were told that there are on average six freight trains in each directions both between Douala and Yaoundé and Yaoundé – Bélabo – Ngaoundéré. Traffic is mainly containers, fuel, logs from Eastern Cameroon and the Central African Republic (loaded at Bélabo) and cut wood. The fuel trains usually travel as block trains. All seen were hauled by either CC 2200 or CC 3300.

Photo Permits:

At the time of our visit CAMRAIL didn’t issue any photo permits. I had written to the Public Relations officer well in advance of our trip to ask for one. When we showed up at HQ in Douala’s main station, he told me that he had received my letter, but had not responded (or done anything else) as the request would have had to be made to CAMRAIL’s General Manager (a Frenchman). I therefore contacted the GM’s secretary and handed her a handwritten request. The following day we received a call to come pick up the response, which was negative. I confirmed with the secretary that it was OK to take pictures from public areas outside of stations, etc…

As a result, I took a very proactive approach with security and CAMRAIL personnel, going towards them, chatting to and joking with them. As a result we were never challenged at any time during our trip. At times when we asked if it was OK to take pictures at a station, we were told that it was not possible due to the missing permit, but in a friendly way. I always explained that we had in fact applied for a permit and for some incomprehensible reason been denied one, but also clearly told that it was perfectly ok to take pictures from public areas by the lineside, so after that it was usually ok to take pictures outside of the stations. Also, whenever we were crossing trains at stations the Cameroonian passengers usually took pictures of the trains with their mobile phones, so I also proceeded to do the same.

We however always refrained from taking out our cameras in the presence of police forces which we hadn’t already befriended, which was probably good thinking given the level of corruption in Cameroon.

As to the reason for CAMRAIL not issuing photo permits (which they used to do in the past), I was told by my contacts at SITARAIL (which the Bolloré group also runs) that they had received instructions from France that all photo or press permits should be handled by the group’s public relations office in France. A couple of French journalists were in fact facing trial in Cameroon as they had published photos of CAMRAIL without authorization in conjunction with an article on how the Bolloré group was using corrupt methods to conduct business, especially in view of Bolloré’s close ties to then-French president Sarkozy (Bolloré had loaned him his private yacht to spend his holidays on).

The Photographs

On 29th.February 2012, we took a taxi from Douala to Mbanga, were we walked along the track to the edge of the village to photograph incoming train 172 from Kumba, before walking back to the station and joining it. From Kumba we could have taken to train back to Mbanga and Douala, but opted to take a minibus to Douala. The following day we were told the train arrived at Douala around 1 am.

On 1st March 2012 we took IC21 from Douala to Yaoundé, a pleasant ride in almost empty 1st class. Along the way we got bolder and took photos of the trains we were overtaking and crossing. We spent the afternoon on the bridge just north of Yaoundé station photographing trains.

On 2nd March 2012 we again spent the morning on the bridge waiting for the arrival of the night train from Ngaoundéré, which was delayed due to the opposing train having derailed near Bélabo. Midday we joined Express 184 to Douala. As this was much delayed and we saw some opportunities for linesideing we got off at Edéa and spent the night at the aluminium factory’s hotel (on the island west of the Sanaga bridge).

On 3rd.March 2012 we spent the morning linesiding on the parallel road/railway west of Edéa station. The area is well shaded, but you should apply plenty of insect repellent as there lots of tiny sand flies (as in many places in Central Africa). After all of the morning trains had gone through we walked into town to take a taxi for the 1 hour ride to Douala.

BB 1039 having come to take orders at Douala - Bessengué station on 1st March 2012; IC21 Douala-Yaoundé (ZE 504M/501R+504R/502M) waiting to cross IC22 at Hikoa-Malep on 1st March 2012;
IC22 Yaoundé-Douala (ZE 501M/503R + 502R/503M) crossing at Hikoa-Malep on 1st March 2012; Wise advice;
Overtaking CC 2209 with an UP container train at Eséka 1st March 2012; BB 1109 with Express 184 to Douala at Yaoundé, 2nd March 2012;

Crossing BB 1114 with Express 181 and BB 1105 with Omnibus 03 at Hiko - Malep, 2nd March 2012. Many of the passengers were drinking palm wine by then; Our train (Express 184) with BB 1109 overtaking BB 1120 with Omnibus 04 at Messondo, 2nd March 2012;
Train 172 Kumba - Mbanga at Mbanga on 29.2nd 12; Bridge of the old line near Douala from IC21, 1st March 2012;
The old Sanaga bridge at Edéa from IC21 on 1st March 2012; Crossing BB 1105 with Omnibus 04 at Otélé on 1st March 2012;
BB 1110 at Mvolyé shunting yard (Yaoundé) on 1st March 2012; CC 2226 at Mvolyé shunting yard (Yaoundé) on 1st March 2012;
IC21 retreating to Yaoundé shed for its overnight rest, 1st March 2012; BB 1110 arriving from Mvolyé with a short transfer freight, 1st March 2012;
CC 2214 + CC 2228 with a DOWN freight, Yaoundé, 1st March 2012; CC 2214 + CC 2228 with a DOWN freight, Yaoundé, 1st March 2012;
BB 1108 bringing the night train to the north in Yaoundé station, 1st March 2012; CC 2220 with train 191 to Ngaoundéré (19 coaches) getting ready to depart Yaoundé, 1st March 2012;
CC 3301 with an UP container train, Yaoundé, 2nd March 2012; CC 2211, Yaoundé, 2nd March 2012;
CC 2207 + dead CC 2219 with the delayed night train from Ngaoundéré, 2nd March 2012; IC21 (504M/501R+504R/502M) Douala - Yaoundé at Edéa Croisement, 3rd March 2012;
CC 2214 shunting a fuel train for the alumina refinery at Edéa Croisement, 3rd March 2012; The old Sanaga bridge at Edéa, open to pedestrians and motorcycles, 3rd March 2012;
IC22 (501M/503R+502R/503M) Yaoundé - Douala at Edéa, 3rd March 2012; CC 2208 + CC2218 with DOWN freight train at Edéa, 3rd March 2012;
BB 1109 with Omnibus 03 Douala - Yaoundé, Edéa, 3rd March 2012; BB 1120 with Express 181 Douala - Yaoundé, Edéa, 3rd March 2012;

BB 1205 with a freight train on the harbour branch at Douala, 4th March 2012.

In Douala there are road bridges across the tracks northwest of the main Bessengué station (Blvd. de la République) and between Bessengué and Bassa (Blvd. de l’Unité). We did not investigate these any further.

There are road bridges across the railway both north (rue Joseph Omgba Nsi) and south (rue Monseigneur Graffin) of Yaoundé Voyageurs station. We spent most of our time on the north bridge, as there was too much police presence near the south bridge. We also identified some locations south of the station from the train, including a hotel possibly with views onto the tracks (Hotel Impérial on Av. Charles Antangana). There are is a shunting yard 4 km south of Yaoundé at Mvolyé with access to industrial sidings and another north of the depot at Yaoundé Marchadises.

Rob Dickinson