Snail Rail to Ouagadougou

Burkina Faso is a land locked Sub-Saharan country in West Africa. Being well inland, the nearest ports can be found in the neighbouring countries of Cote d’Ivoire, Benin and Togo. One of the most efficient ways to move goods in by rail, and there is only one main rail line linking Burkina Faso with a port, and that is the RAN, the Regie Chemin de Fer Abidjan à Niger, otherwise known as the Abidjan to Niger Railway.

One small problem with this railway is that it doesn’t quite make Niger, which is another land locked country to the northeast of Burkina Faso. In fact, the line usually terminates at Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, a city that is well short of the Niger border.

Abidjan, on the other hand is the port city and former capital of Cote d’Ivorie, and there is a twice weekly train which does run the 1,145kms between the two cities. It’s a narrow gauge line, and the train can take from 25 to 60 hours to complete the journey, but if you get on board and manage to stay there you will eventually make your destination, although not necessarily in style.

The best way to enjoy the journey is to have reasonable expectations. If you anticipate a swift, efficient service like the Japanese Shinkansen bullet trains you will be overwhelmingly disappointed. However, if you board the train expecting adventure your ideals shall be richly rewarded.

This is a trader’s train. But that I mean it is used by people who purchase goods, and lots of them, in Abidjan to move further up the line to sell for profit. Often these traders are women of considerable size who have a nifty nose for business, and who can barter with the best of them.

When you share a compartment, it is not just with your fellow passengers, but with their goods as well, which can range from linen to livestock and lots of it. There are 16 stations on the line, and all of them are bustling with people disembarking and boarding and the traders buying and selling their wares.

The train itself sometimes spurts along at a reasonable speed and at other times slows for no apparent reason. Being a narrow gauge railway, the carriages can wobble a bit more than usual, but that only adds to the total experience.

Training it to Ouagadougou may not be the most efficient way to reach the city, nor the most comfortable, but it will be memorable and an adventure that few other people experience.

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