The International Steam Pages

The Railways of Madagascar, 2012

Thomas Kautzor reports on his visit between January 17th and February 3rd 2012. A map of the metre gauge railways on the island described below is available on

With the introduction of the illustrations, the original report has been divided into two. This report covers FCE, click here for the report on MADARAIL.

He has also produced reports on the sugar mills and other minor railways and a small distillery with preserved stationary steam..

Fianarantsoa – Côte Est (FCE):- Click the thumbnails for a larger picture.

At the time when the main network was privatized, no operator showed interest in this isolated line connecting the central town of Fianarantsoa with Manakara on the island’s east coast. As a result the 163 km line, opened 1934-36, is still operated by Réseau National des Chemins de Fer Malagasy (RNCFM).

For much of its length (Ampitabe, km 28.1 to Sahasinaka, km 116.2) the railway runs through a steeply-graded valley with no road access and the mixed trains are maintained as a social service for the locals. However, the railway has also made it into the travel guides and a 1st class coach is provided for tourists. However, with only one diesel locomotive left operational, the future of the line is in doubt. Trains operate according to the following schedule:

Tu/Th/Sa 421 Fianarantsoa 07.00 – Manakara 16.55
We/Fr/Su 422 Manakara 06.45 – Fianarantsoa 16.50

Trains are made up of two to four covered wagons and three coaches, two 2nd and one 1st class. Station stops are very long as consumer goods and building materials are offloaded and agricultural products (mainly bananas) for Fianarantsoa loaded. On Mondays, when there are no scheduled trains, the sole diesel locomotive is used to haul freight wagons on the upper part of the line. At the time of our visit mining equipment was transported to Manampatrana (km 79.2) for a Chinese company dragging in the river for gold.

The line’s depot and workshops are located at Fianarantsoa, but for heavy repairs engines are taken to MADARAIL in Tana. The depot at Manakara is not used anymore.

Just outside of Manakara, the railway crosses the runway of the local airport.

CFM Emblem Manakara Fianarantsoa Fianarantsoa

Diesel Locomotives:

In 1982 Alsthom supplied six single cab AD16B diesel locomotives numbered BB 241 – BB 246 (Bo-Bo DE, SACM V16 1600 h.p. engine), of which only one remains:

  • BB 241 wrecked in 1989 at Madiorano;

  • BB 242 wrecked in 2012 500m before Andrambovato (remains still there);

  • BB 243 wrecked in 2002 at Amboagohe;

  • BB 244 wrecked in 1995;

  • BB 245 wrecked in 2005 at Km 61;

  • BB 246 in service.

At the time BB 242 was wrecked two weeks prior to our visit in early January 2012, BB 246 had been out-of-use (traction motors). After BB 242’s accident, its undamaged bogies could luckily be recovered and fitted to BB 246. At the time of our visit, the Minister of Transport visited and was asked to provide two locos to keep the railway in operation. It is however doubtful if these can be funded.

BB 242 wrecked BB 246 at Fianarantsoa BB 246 at Ampitambe BB 246 at Manakara

Diesel Railcars & Draisines:

  • ‘Micheline’ ZM 516 “Fandrasa” (ex “Tsikirity”, 1B-3 DMR, Carel-et-Fouché 1952, 19 chairs + bar) operational for charters, it was brought from Tana after the main network was concessioned to MADARAIL (Michelines never operated over the FCE). It is limited to the level section from Fianarantsoa to Sahambavy (km 21.1), where a triangle has been laid to enable it to turn around;

  • draisine YC.046 (Geismar) operational;

  • draisine YC.048 (Geismar D640 N°. 266) dumped depot (only frame and body).

ZM 516 ZM 516 at Fianarantsoa ZM 516 at Sahambavy Michelin Pneurail YC 046 at Fianarantsoa

Passenger Train Coaches:

  • A 011 (SIG/RhB 1960, 15.770 m., 20.0 t., 64 seats, 2003 ex Yverdon-Ste. Croix (Switzerland) B 2217, 2000 ex RhB B 2217, built on frame SIG 1913 coach) in use as 1st class coach;

  • LEB B 17 (central doors, SWS 1944, 15.44 m., 13.2 t., 64 seats, 2005 ex Lausanne-Echallens-Bercher (Switzerland) B 17) used as spare parts donor for B 17;

  • B 18 (central doors, SWS 1946, 15.44 m., 13.2 t., 64 seats, c.2001 ex Lausanne-Echallens-Bercher (Switzerland) B 18) in use as 1st class coach;

  • Atmdywf1 202 (central doors, ANF 1956, 16.150 m., 21.5 t., 53 seats);

  • Btmdywf1 506 (central doors, ANF 1956, 16.150 m., 21.5 t., 86 seats);

  • Btmdywf1 508 (central doors, ANF 1956, 16.150 m., 21.5 t., 86 seats);

  • ZR 928 (Soulé 1964, 18.684 m., 15.8 t., 58 1st class seats);

  • DKP 031 van (SIG 1968, 13.40 m., 8.0 t., 10 t. load, 2001 ex PTT/SBB Brünig (Switzerland) Z 067) stored out-of-use;

  • DKP 032 van (SIG 1944/77, 11.90 m., 8.0 t., 12.0 t. load, 2001 ex Luzern-Stans-Engelberg (Switzerland) D 241, 1994 ex PTT/SBB Brünig Z 65) stored out-of-use.

In front of Fianarantsoa station a wooden bogie coach (Franco-Belge 1917) is used as a tourist office (“Maison des Guides”).

Goods Wagons:

Both covered steel bogie wagons and bogie flat wagons are in use. Also seen were two covered vans with a guard’s compartment (KB 15005 & 15006). In front of Fianarantsoa station a wooden bogie covered wagon (Cail 1924) is used as a souvenir shop.

In 1999 a number of Swiss public railways donated track material, part of which was shipped in at least four Nyon-St.Cergue-Morez (NStCM) four-wheel covered wagons (G 33/37/38/39), of which only one (now KCH 038, SWS 1909, 1985 ex Gruyère-Fribourg-Morat (GFM) Gbk 615) was seen at Manampatra.

Works cars include four-wheel ballast hoppers, a bogie tunnel maintenance car and the remains of a four-wheel handcrane dumped at the depot.

Rob Dickinson