The International Steam Pages

Industrial  Heritage in Madagascar, 2012 Part 1

Thomas Kautzor reports on the sugar mills and other minor railways. Click here for Part 2.

If you are interested in Madgascar's current rail system, Thomas has also provided reports covering MADARAIL and FCE.

Five sugar factories operated in Madagascar, four of which possessed plantation railways at some point in time.

Sucreries de Nosy-Bé et de la Côte Est (SNBCE):

This sugar mill was established in 1923 on the small volcanic island of Nosy-Bé, off the northwest coast of Madagascar. The mill was located at Djamandjar, on the island’s west coast. The company was later bought by the French-owned Société Sucrière de Mahavavy (SOSUMAV) and nationalized in 1979 by Siramamy Malagasy (SIRAMA). The mill was closed in 2004 and has little prospect of one day reopening given the island’s high land prices, as it is the major tourist area in the country. Sugar cane was cultivated on an area of 1.800 ha. of land. The factory had an annual capacity of 16.000 tonnes of sugar, mainly for local consumption, and of 11.000 hl of alcohol. The main stationary steam engine inside the mill was built by Fives-Lille in 1934. (This is a drop valve engine which appears, like the steam turbine, to have driven two mills. RD) There are the remains of a twin flywheel engine outside (Possibly a vacuum pump. RD)

Two three-foot gauge rail lines were used to haul cut cane to the mill, one along the coast north of the mill to the fields around Lokiabé (c. 9 km), the second south and then east to the fields around Djabalabé (c. 10 km), not far from the island’s small capital of Andoany (Hell-Ville). Branching off from the southern line at Pasandava, a short 2 km branch went to the mill’s wharf at Port du Cratère, which was used to ship off sugar and molasses. The track was 20 kg/m rail on wooden sleepers, later replaced by 30 kg/m rail. In steam days the SNBCE is thought to have owned two Baldwin 0-6-0s, two H.K. Porter 2-6-0s and a Fives-Lille 0-6-0T, all built in the early 1920s. They were wood-fired.

After closure the railway track has been left in place, although much it is now overgrown and some has been built over. The pictures were taken at Ambatoloaka and north of Djamandjar.

Outside the factory two steam locomotives are preserved:

  • U.S.-built 0-6-0 with bogie tender at the main gate north of the factory, in very poor condition;

  • U.S.-built 0-6-0 with bogie tender on the main line just south of the factory, outside ‘La Banane’ restaurant next to Djamandjar taxi station.

Both are said to have been used as stand-by locos for the diesels until the closure of the mill, although I doubt that given their poor condition and the fact that photos of the loco at the gate have appeared on the web prior to 2004.

The mill still has a skeleton SIRAMA staff on site. A tour of the mill costs Ar. 12.000, for which you get a receipt and a guide. The SNBCE’s four four-wheel diesel locos are stored under the covered two-road loco shed (the pictures show them in the same order as they are listed):

  • Plymouth MGAT N°. 6133/1958, delivered new, 27.5 ton, 225 h.p.;

  • Moyse 1967, 25 ton, 250 h.p.;

  • Motor Rail ‘Simplex’ class U 1980, 12 ton, 105 h.p.;

  • Plymouth.

The two larger locos were formerly used in line service, the Simplex and the smaller Plymouth for shunting at the mill. The Simplex is without its engine, but the other three still look good and could be made to run according to my guide.

SNBCE used to own 136 wagons, but some have been scrapped after closure. The ones seen were of the following types, all built in the early 1920s:

  • Bogie cane wagons (weight 6.5-7 tonnes, load 6 tonnes);

  • Bogie hoppers for cinders;

  • Bogie open wagons for bagged sugar;

  • Four-wheel tank wagons for molasses (only two seen at mill, the ones stored at the wharf having been scrapped);

  • Four-wheel flat wagon.

At Port du Cratère, the company port used to consist of a finger pier hosting a railway triangle and two large warehouses for bagged sugar. An electric winch was used to move wagons on the tracks along the warehouses. The remains of three more steam locos were stored on one side of the triangle:

  • Baldwin 0-6-2 (frame and water tanks) with ‘154435’ is stamped on one of the motions;

  • H.K. Porter 0-6-0 (frame with middle axle missing, boiler and cab) with ‘A10374 4-18’ stamped on one of the motions;

  • Unknown 2-4-2T (frame, boiler and cab).

The harbor has recently been turned into a marina. The pier together with the locos has been sold and turned into the ‘Quay 13-48 Café’ (open Mon-Sat 08-21h, A wooden structure has been built on the frame of the Baldwin 0-6-2 to turn it into the bar, the smokebox of the Porter 0-6-0 has been turned into a pizza oven and a structure mounted on the 2-4-2T to turn it into the toilets. Two bogie cane wagons stand next to the locos and were to also to be incorporated into the café, while a third sits next to the warehouse.

At the end of the short pier are two derricks powered by stationary steam engines built by Lambert Hoisting Eng., Newark, NJ (upper) and Clyde Iron Works, Duluth, Minn (lower). The Lambert was later converted to electric power.

Sucrerie de Brickaville:

This sugar mill 100 km southwest of Tamatave (east coast) on the railway line to Antananarivo was opened by the Société de la Graineterie Française (SGF) in 1930, later taken over by the SOSUMAV and nationalized by SIRAMA in 1979. It was closed in 2004/05. It had a planted area of 1.073 ha. The factory had an annual capacity of 15.000 tonnes of sugar, mainly for local consumption, and 10.000 hl of alcohol. Sugar cane was delivered to the mill by narrow gauge railway (long closed) and by river barge, while the finished products were taken away by rail. 

Photos from the steam-powered equipment inside the mill can be found at link dead by 25th October 2016. (These are largely 'artistic' and challenging to view in a technical sense, but show at least one Corliss engine. Once again I am left to regret that the so-called international stationary steam enthusiasts are basically of the the armchair variety and much kit that survived active into the 21st century has passed effectively unrecorded. RD)

Sucrerie de Namakia:

This sugar mill 70 km southwest of Majunga/Mahajanga (west coast) was opened in 1936 by Sucrerie Marseillaise de Madagascar (SMDM). In 1972 it was taken over by SOSUMAV and in 1977 nationalized by SIRAMA. In 2005 the mill was closed, partly privatized and reopened in 2007 as Ouest Sucre Namakia in joint venture with Chinese-owned Sucrerie Coplant de Madagascar (SUCOMA). An area of 2.800 ha out of a total owned 3.200 ha of land are planted with sugar cane. The factory had an annual capacity of 16.000 tonnes of sugar (2009), mainly for export, and 11.000 hl of alcohol. Under SUCOMA 24.000 tonnes of sugar were produced in 2010 and it is trying to raise production to 28.000 tonnes in 2012.

Transport of sugar cane from the fields to the mill is by tractor and trailer, but we were told at Ambilobe sugar mill that c. 10 km of 600mm railway remain in use between the mill and the company wharf to the north. From there the bagged sugar is shipped by river barge to Majunga port for export.

Sucrerie de la Mahavavy, Ambilobe:

This sugar mill 160 km south of Antsiranana (Diégo Suarez) on the west coast was opened in 1949 by Groupe des Raffineries de Sucre Louis, later Société Sucrière de Mahavavy (SOSUMAV). It was nationalized by SIRAMA in 1976 and closed in 2006 for privatization. A year later it reopened in joint venture with Chinese-owned SUCOMA. An area of 6.300 ha out of a total of 7.140 ha is planted with sugar cane. The factory has an annual capacity of 60.000 tonnes of sugar, mainly for export, and 60.000 hl of alcohol. The mill is powered by a steam turbine.

Railways into the fields were replaced by tractors and trailers a long time ago, but a c. 10 km 600mm gauge line between the mill and the company wharf at Port Saint-Louis to the east survived until c. 1987. Apart from a small bridge and some embedded track remains at level crossings near the mill, we could find no remains. While the wharf with its rail-based crane is not in use anymore, the large warehouses are still used to store bagged sugar.

Sucrerie de Morondava:

This modern sugar mill at Morondava (west coast), owned by SIRAMAmin Analaiva (SIRANALA) and opened in 1983, never had any railways. It has been operated by SUCOMA since 1997 and has an annual capacity of 22.000 tonnes of sugar.

Diégo Suarez:

Located at the northern tip of the main island, the natural harbor of Diégo Suarez (Antsiranana after 1975) as well as the surrounding area became a French protectorate in 1885, over ten years before the rest of the island was colonized. The harbor became a major French naval base and coaling station and the French military presence lasted well after independence in 1960 until 1973.

A 600mm gauge military railway was opened between Diégo Suarez, Fontaine Tunisienne and Sakaramy (10 + 12 km) in 1900/02. It was intended to continue this railway 10 km to Camp d’Ambre in Joffreville, used as a hill station by the military due to its cooler climate. The last section was however never built. Although at least three 0-4-0T Decauville steam locos (including 3.5 ton N°. 342/1901) are known to have been used, the main mode of traction for up trains was mules for passenger trains, oxen for goods trains, while the down trains were powered by gravity. Traffic consisted of a daily supply train and a postal van, and a limited public passenger service for civilians existed (one weekly return working in 1913). No remains of this railway could be found, however old postcards depicting it are sold in shops all over town.

From c. 1887 the Société de la Graineterie Française (SGF) used narrow gauge railways in its plantations around Diégo Suarez.

At the Compagnie Salinière de Madagascar (CSM) salt works, 15 km west of Diégo Suarez, a German-built 0-4-0T was found dismantled (frame, boiler and water tanks only). It was almost certainly built by O&K (30 HP) and a five-digit number is stamped on one of the wheel flanges, but could not be read clearly, together with the date “8 27”. The loco was formerly plinthed in front of the office building, but has been taken apart to be restored by the present Greek owners of the salt works, who would be interested in getting information to rebuild the missing parts (cab, etc…). Although the salt works used to have a narrow gauge rail system into the 1950s/60s, the loco was never used there but obtained in an auction from the nearby Magnifico meat packing plant at Namekia (formerly Société La Havraise), which supplied tinned meat to the French military. After 1973 the demand for tinned meat vanished and the factory closed in the late 70s/early 80s.

Other railways:

A metre or narrow gauge mineral railway of c. 11 km operated between the port of Morondava (west coast) and Four à Chaux. It was opened in 1936 by Gites Minéraux de Madagascar (GMM).

Three 600 mm gauge railways were partly built but never completed around Toliara (ex Tuléar) in the southwest :

  • Tuléar – Tongbory, 7.5 out of 90 km of track laid in 1924;

  • Tuléar – Manera, 22 out of 94 km of track laid in 1924;

  • Soalara to Andranomanintsy (coal mine), 90 out of 156 km laid in 1941-45 by Société d’Exploitation des Charbons de la Sakoa (SECS). Never used and later scrapped together with two O&K steam locos and the entire rolling stock.

At least two narrow gauge locomotives are known to survive in remote places:

  • A locomotive formerly used by an Italian and later a French lumber company in the village of Tampolo, in the bay of Antongila, not far from Masoala National Park (east coast);

  • Our local guide mentioned seeing a locomotive formerly used by a company owned by Frenchman Jean de Heaulme in the village of Tsimafana, on the banks of the Tsiribihina river north of Morondava (west coast). It can be reached on a day trip with from Morondava with a 4WD.

Rob Dickinson