The International Steam Pages

The Railways of Mali, 2010

Thomas Kautzor reports on his visits in September and November 2010, when he spent a substantial amount of time in West Africa (Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo and Benin). In September I was accompanied by a German railfan friend of mine for a period of three weeks and for the first time this gave me the opportunity to chase some trains by car in order to get lineside shots. Reports on the other countries will follow as time allows. Thomas previously reported on the railways of Senegal and Mali in 2007.

Transrail SA:

This company continues to operate freight traffic between Dakar (Senegal) and Bamako (Mali), a distance of 1233 km. Majority shareholder (51%) of Transrail, founded in 2007 to take over from the previous operator, Canadian Canac (2003-06), is food company Advens (owned by Franco-Senegalese businessman Abbas Jaber), while the remaining shares are held by the states of Senegal and Mali (10% each), private investors (20%) and Transrail’s employees (9%). Railway operations are in the hands of Vecturis (Belgium), who also operate Madarail in Madagascar. Since August 2007, Transrail has been in receivership, a situation which has impacted negatively on railway operations due to the inability to procure new equipment and spare parts.

Already from the start of operations in 2007, Transrail was faced with a hole in its finances. In October 2010 former operator Canac was ordered by the Malian justice to back CFA 3 billion for money siphoned away during its tenure of the railway. The main problem facing Transrail has been the failure of its minority shareholders and major customers (mainly state-owned corporations) to meet their pledges for funds and to pay the pay the company for its services. As a result of this Advens itself has held back funds it pledged to invest into the company. Transrail therefore finds itself in a dire financial situation and has been unable to invest any funds to renew the railway’s crumbling infrastructure and equipment.

Presently the objective is to have one daily departure from each end of the line, however due to the negative situation trains can take up to a week to reach the other end of the line. In case of loco failure and when no spare locos are available (which is the case most of the time), the loco of the following train is used to haul the train that has failed. Although derailments have been reduced from 20 to 10 per months since 2007, they are still too frequent. Out of 20 main line diesel locomotives, only 12 are operational on average. According to Transrail present traffic levels amount to 400,000 t./year, however according to the Malian ministry of transportation only 270,152 tons transited by rail in 2009, compared to 1.34 million tons by road on the Dakar-Mali axis (which amounts to 40% of Mali’s transit traffic).

A study on the financial situation of Transrail was to be completed in December and a meeting of the railway’s shareholders and creditors was to take place in Paris on the 13th to decide on Transrail’s future and see how its debt can be reduced. The railway is certainly vital to the economy of Mali (more so than for Senegal).

Presently most traffic is general goods in closed wagons and containers, including construction materials for import and cotton from Mali for export. New cement factories, which are being constructed near Kayes and Bamako by WACEM, will mean new traffics of clinker from Senegal. If Mali’s major mining projects (alumina and bauxite for CAMEC, iron ore for Arcelor Mittal) materialize, the potential of goods to be transported by rail will increase from 1.2 million tons per year to 10-20 million tons. In that case Transrail will become a very attractive company.

At Kati (km 1218), all eastbound trains are split into two and taken down the steep gradient into Bamako (km 1233) separately in order to prevent runaways. In the opposite direction the trains are sometimes double-headed (when a locomotive is available). At Bamako station there are four ex-SNCF coaches (3x DEV AO, 1x USI) which can be used as braking power on the stretch from Kati. In September 125-ton Gootwald break-down crane 2029918 (GS125.07 H, 142049/1992) was found at Kati, from where it supposedly operated a number of sorties as witnessed by a number of damaged wagons at Kati station and off the tracks between there and Bamako (these even included Korofina works’ break-down van).

The little Pinguely 0-6-0T (No. 143/1902, 15 t., ex Markala dam construction, ex C.F. du Morbihan No. 14) formerly stored at Korofina workshops in Bamako has been restored/repainted and is now plinthed in front of the Transrail headquarters close to Bamako station.

In September the Transrail fleet included the following locos:

BB 877 Alsthom AD12B 1978 serviceable Korofina (works shunter)
BB 1202 Alsthom AD12B 1972 under repair Thiès (Senegal)
CC 1671 EMD G22CU 712573/Feb. 1973 in use Mali (works trains)
CC 1691 Alsthom AD20C 1986 awaiting repairs Korofina
CC 1702 Henschel DE1650 32744/1983 in use in Senegal
CC 2203 GMDL GT22LC-2 A4687/Apr. 87 dismantled Korofina (roll-over damage)
CC 2204 GMDL GT22LC-2 A4688/Apr. 87 under repair Korofina
CC 2205 GMDL GT22LC-2 A4689/Apr. 87 under repair Korofina
CC 2206 GMDL GT22LC-2 A4690/Apr. 87 in use
CC 2207 GMDL GT22LC-2 A4691/Apr. 87 under repair Thiès (Senegal)
CC 2208 GMDL GT22LC-2 A4692/Apr. 87 in use
CC 2209 GMDL GT22LC-2 A4693/Apr. 87 in use
CC 2411 GMDL GT22LC-2 A3683/July 79 in use
CC 2412 GMDL GT22LC-2 A3611/Apr. 79 in use (a)
CC 2413 GMDL GT22LC-2 A4705/Apr. 87 Thiès (Senegal) workshops
CC 2414 GMDL GT22LC-2 A4706/Apr. 87 Thiès (Senegal) workshops
CC 2415 GMDL GT22LC-2 A4707/Apr. 87 Thiès (Senegal) workshops
CC 2416 GMDL GT22LC-2 A4708/Apr. 87 Thiès (Senegal) workshops
CC 2417 GMDL GT22LC-2 958634-1/1996 in use
CC 2418 GMDL GT22LC-2 958634-2/1996 under repair Thiès (Senegal)
CC 2419 GMDL GT22LC-2 958634-3/1996 in use
CC 2420 GMDL GT22LC-2 958634-4/1996 in use
X 1 EMD GT22CU-2 (2006) in use (b)
X 2 EMD GT22CU-2 (2006) in use (b)

BB877, CC 1671/91 and CC 2203-09 (recently renumbered from CC2283-89) are ex-RCFM (Mali), while CC 1202, CC 1702 and CC 2411-20 (renumbered from CC2477-78/81-88) are ex-SNCS (Senegal).

(a) CC 2412 ex CC 2478 was formerly Régie du chemin de fer Abidjan-Niger (RAN) CC-2204;
(b) These two former Ferrocarriles Argentinos (FA) locos (FA serial 9701-54, used on the “General Belgrano” metre gauge system) are owned by the Mali Ministry of Transportation and leased to Transrail. They were rebuilt at TRACFER in Argentina before delivery in 2006.

Not part of the operational fleet and stored/dumped at Korofina works are the following locos:

BB-102 Alsthom 1939 (delivered in 1947)
BB 552 Alsthom 44T. 1956
BB 878 Alsthom AD12B 1984 w/o bogies
BB 879 Alsthom AD12B 1984 w/o bogies
CC 1682 Henschel DE1650 32747/1983 w/o bogies
CC 1692 Alsthom AD20C 1986
CC 2002 Alsthom AD20C 1987
CC 2282 EMD GL26C 828033-2/Apr. 1983

All of these are ex-RCFM, except for ex-SNCS CC 2002 which was brought to Korofina by Transrail some years ago to serve as spare parts donor for CC 1691. Supposedly some more ex-SNCS locos are stored/dumped at Dakar and Thiès in Senegal.

The locos seen sported a variety of liveries:

RCFM green and red: BB 552, 877-79, CC 1671, 1682;
RCFM green and blue: CC 2282;
RCFM light and dark blue: CC 1691-92, 2205;
SNCS green: CC 2002, 2419/20;
Transrail white and green: CC 2412;
Transrail orange: CC 2203/04/09, 2411;
Mali green/yellow/red: X 1/2.

Earlier in 2010 a contract was signed for Rail Traction Raeren to supply five rebuilt Alsthom BBs. These standard gauge locos were to be fitted with the metre-gauge bogies of withdrawn AD12Bs. However nothing came of this after the Belgian company folded.

The dumped inspection and maintenance railcars at the former track maintenance yard just west of Bamako station have been cleared, only “Direction Générale” inspection railcar SZ 006 / 6K (Geismar VMT640SM 611/1991) could be seen within the perimeter walls of the Transrail headquarters coumpound. Railcars seen at Korofina works included a Geismar VMT850GR works railcar (probably SZ 1031 = Geismar 838/1999, dismantled and under repair), a Geismar VMT860GR works railcar (839/1999, o.o.u. with fire damage), a MATISA PV641 track geometry measurement trolley (stored) and a Matisa R-7D ballast regulating trolley (No. 6304/4-1976, stored) together with its hopper trailer. Inspection railcar DZ 1056 was found at Kayes depot on September 15, the only piece of motive power present there.

Passenger Service:

The “International Express” between Senegal and Mali has been suspended since the summer of 2009. The only service presently operated is between Bamako and Kayes (737 km), and this is operated by the Malian Ministry of Transportation. Between Bamako and Kayes there is strong competition from the road, where ticket prices are a bit higher but traveling times are shorter, however many of the towns in between are not reached by the road network. Locos and rolling stock is owned by the Ministry, while operations and maintenance have been subcontracted to Transrail. None of the regauged ex-SNCF coaching stock remains in revenue service and beside presidential coach 2950006/SS6 (SNCF DEV AO) only a few are stored/dumped at Korofina workshops. All passenger rolling stock in use is from India.

In September there was one set of coaches in use, painted in two-toned blue (“Rame Bleue” = RB), with three weekly pairs of trains. From October 18, 2010 a second set of yellow and green coaches was put into service (“Rame Jaune” = RJ), allowing for the following timetable:

Mon. 12 free
Tue. 13 12
Wed. maintenance 13
Thu. 12 maintenance
Fri. 13 maintenance
Sat. free 12
Sun. free 13

Train 12 is Bamako-Kayes, 13 the return service. Trains depart at 07.15 according to the schedule and take all day to reach their destination. The following diesel locos are available for traction:

6370 DLW YDM-4 142/1973-74 serviceable (a);
ML-1 DLW MALI-001/09-2007 seen in use;
ML-2 DLW MALI-002/09-2007 seen in use;
ML-3 DLW MALI-003/09-2007 awaiting repairs.

(a) ex Indian Railways, refurbished at Golden Rock works Oct. 2006.

ML1-ML3 are new end cab diesels with an output of 2300 h.p.. One other unit was delivered to Senegal for haulage of the “International Express” and cape gauge versions have been delivered to Angola and Sudan. The MLs have replaced the two ex-Argentina EMD GT22CU-2s on passenger duties and these have been leased to Transrail. 6370 was previously on stand-by duties, but has been pressed into passenger service with the introduction of the new timetable. 6370 carries the RCFM two-tone blue livery, while the MLs carry a yellow and green one.

The “Rame Bleue” consists of six 2nd class non-aircon coaches, out of a total of ten (Nos. 2020200-09) delivered in 2007 (together with the YDM-4), and two baggage vans converted from covered goods wagons. The coaches were refurbished at RCF Kapurthala prior to delivery.

The “Rame Jaune” consists of five 2nd class coaches and on 1st class air conditioned coach, a generator van and baggage van. These are part of a large order of 28 coaches delivered in 2008 together witht the three ML locos. After their arrival they were however left stored in Dakar and have suffered from vandalism and theft as a result. After their transfer to Mali earlier this year they needed substantial work before being placed back in service, with one 1st class, eight 2nd class, three baggage vans and one generator van having been refurbished as of mid-November 2010. The total order consisted of the following coaches:

2 sleeping cars (A/C) Nos. 2020001-02;
3 1st class coaches (A/C) Nos. 2020100-01;
11 2nd class coaches Nos. 2020210-20;
8 baggage vans Nos. 2020300-07;
2 restaurant cars (A/C) Nos. 2020400-01;
2 generator vans Nos. 2020500-01.

When not in use, the passenger train sets are stored and maintained at the washing facility just west of Bamako station, close to the former running diesel shed.

A convention has recently been signed between the ministries of transportation of Mali, Senegal and Transrail to reintroduce the “International Express” once enough coaches have been restored.

My visit in November coincided with the Moslem Eid al-Adha holiday, and as a result passenger workings had been suspended for a few days. The “Rame Bleue” was however to be used on Friday the 19th to take Christians to an annual pilgrimage to Kita (km 1047), returning on Monday 22nd. This was to be followed by a special train on Saturday 20th, returning the next day, composed of the presidential coach and a baggage van, used to ferry the Bishop of Bamako and the envoy from the Holy See to the pilgrimage.

Tramways de Bamako:

The present government of Mali is trying hard to have Bamako become the first West African city with a modern tramway. This project is being developed with the help of Strasbourg municipality in France. A study has determined that the route with the most potential to help solve some of the capital’s traffic problems would start in front of the railway station, run in a southeasterly direction through the central business district, cross the Niger River on the Pont de Badala, and continue along Avenue de l’Unité Africaine OUA to the Tour de l’Afrique roundabout, a distance of appreciatively 10 km. From there, the line would split off to the northwest and southeast to serve rapidly developing new suburbs.

Lohr Industrie’s Translohr rubber-tired tram system with a central guiding rail seems to be a favorite at this point, and it is estimated that 20 type STE6 vehicles with a capacity of 450 passengers each would be needed. The presidency would like construction to start as soon as 2011, however the question of financing would have to be covered first.

Pinguely steam locomotive in front of the Transrail HQ, Bamako, 10th September 2010:

Left, ML1 with train 13 arriving from Kayes and CC 2419 with a goods train for Dakar, Bamako, 11th September 2010

Right, CC 2411 & dead 2412 on arrival from Senegal, Kati, 10th September 2010

Left, ML1 with train 12 Bko-Kys, Négala, 11th September 2010

Right, CC 2204 & 2205, Korofina, 11th September 2010

Left, X 1 (ex Argentina), Korofina, 11th September 2010

Right, ML2, Korofina, 11th September 2010

Left, YDM-4 6370, Korofina, 11th September 2010

Right, presidential coach 2950006 (ex SNCF), Korofina, 11th September 2010

Left, CC 2282, Korofina, 11th September 2010

Right, ML2, Korofina, 11th September 2010

Left, CC 2209 with Dkr-Bko, Négala, 12th September 2010

Right, ML1 with train 13 Kys-Bko, Kayes, 14th September 2010

Left, ML1 with train 13 Kys-Bko, Kayes, 14th September 2010

Right, Hotel de la Gare, Kayes, 14th September 2010

Left, CC 2420 & 2411 between Kati & Bamako, 15th September 2010

Right, Althom CC 1691, Korofina, 19th November 2010.

Rob Dickinson