Eritrea: Mallets in the mountains

Italian Flair in Africa

Eritrea: 26./29.01. – 06.02./10.02.2010

Eritrea: Teufelstor bei Shegereni

Eritrea was occupied by Ethiopia for many years. After gaining independence in 1993, some of the former railway staff started to rebuild their totally destroyed railway. Some of the Mallets, built by Ansaldo (Italy) in 1938, were brought back to life. Also one of the small Breda built shunters, two diesel locos and two diesel railcars (one from 1935) have been put back into working order. These vintage machines are operated by similarly well aged railwaymen, and are used for specials on a line which can easily be compared with the lines in the Andes, the Semmering in Austria or the Darjeeling railway. Spectacular mountain sections with gradients of up to 3.5% were needed to enable the 950mm gauge line to gain almost 2,400m height over a distance of 118 kms. There are many tunnels and stone viaducts. You can see deep gorges, steep rock faces and valleys, overlooking the mountains, covered in clouds, but only for a brief spell before you enter the next tunnel ...




January 4th, 2010: Three additional steam charter trains added Feb 8th and 9th.






Flight from London with Egypt Air (Star Alliance member) via Cairo to the capital of Eritrea, Asmara.



Early morning (02.50 hrs) arrival in Asmara. Hotel check in and have a rest or (optional) you can go by charter bus to Nefasit to visit the Debre Bizen monastery (women are not allowed). From Nefasit it takes about one and a half to two hours to hike and climb up to the monastery. At noon return to Asmara. After lunch guided tour through the city to visit the most important buildings of the Art Déco “Italian School”. We’ll also visit some typical markets like the “Recycling market” including the chilly mill, the “Covered Market” and the fish market to see the colourful life there. Hotel in Asmara (pictures are here)



In the morning we’ll go by 4wd jeeps along the old track bed of the former railway line from Asmara to Keren (Cheren). We’ll make many stops at the nicest positions such as viaducts, tunnels, deep cuttings etc. (pictures are here) Hotel in Keren



After breakfast we’ll continue our trip into the gorge beyond Keren (pictures are here). The former line becomes impassable for our 4wd car, so we’ll walk along the former line for about two hours. In the afternoon we’ll return to Asmara. Hotel in Asmara.



Flight from London with Egypt Air (Star Alliance member) via Cairo to the capital of Eritrea, Asmara.



Early morning continue by MS 833 Cairo departure 00.15 hrs, 04.05 hrs arrival in Asmara. Hotel check in and have a rest. Late morning sight seeing tour in Asmara which will end at the station and the depot of Asmara where one loco will be just fired.

In the early afternoon our first train is waiting for us at the station. With the "small“ 0-4-4-0 Mallet class 440 we’ll take a freight train down from Asmara to Shegereni. With many runpasts and photo stops we’ll return uphill to Asmara. Hotel in Asmara



In the early morning we’ll take our charter bus from Asmara to Arbaroba. There is a passenger train, hauled by a class 442 Mallet waiting for us. With many runpasts we’ll go back to Asmara.

In the early afternoon we’ll return to Arbaroba, where we’ll meet a mixed train, which is hauled by a double header, probably the class 440 and 442 Mallets. In the best afternoon light we’ll return to Asmara.



In the morning we’ll board a mixed train, hauled by a 442 class mallet, to go all the way from Asmara to Bareza (no road access). Between Arbaroba and Lessa we’ll take some pictures of our train. In Bareza we’ll take water, and later the loco loops around the train. In the afternoon light we’ll return uphill to Ghinda through an interesting gorge. By bus we’ll return to Asmara.



In the early morning we’ll return to Arbaroba, but this time we’ll use the antique railcar, the so called Littorina, a 1935 Fiat-built nicely rounded railcar. Our charter bus will follow the railcar and you can use this instead of the railcar if you want to make pictures all along the way. Around 9.30am we’ll continue by bus from Arbaroba to Ghinda, where we’ll board our steam train to go down to Massawa. Our train will be shunting for our group in the harbour of Massawa. We’ll also take the famous shot of a train coming from the harbour to Massawa city. Hotel in Massawa.



In the morning we’ll continue straight on to the famous long stone arch viaduct near Moncullo. Around 10am we’ll arrive in Mai Atal. From there we’ll return to Massawa by charter bus (40 minutes) to take some time for visiting the town. In the afternoon we’ll continue our train ride with several runpasts from Mai Atal to Ghinda. From Ghinda to our hotel in Asmara we’ll travel by charter bus.



In the very early morning we’ll return by charter bus from Asmara to Ghinda. Passing viaducts and tunnels we’ll climb upwards to Arbaroba. In Nefasit we’ve planned a lunch break to avoid photography when the sun is high in the sky. From Arbaroba we’ll return by charter bus to our hotel in Asmara.



Today a Breda 0-4-0 is under steam for some shunting operation in Asmara. In the morning we’ll visit the workshop of the railway in Asmara.

In the afternoon we’ll go back to Arbaroba, where our 442 is still waiting for the return to Asmara. With the help of another Mallet we’ll return to Asmara with a double headed train. In the evening we’ve planned a late night visit to the depot of Asmara with our two locomotives under steam.



About 1.30 hrs, charter bus to the airport and return flight by Egypt Air MS 834 Asmara – Cairo. Connecting flight to London.




The probably most spectacular section of the currently rebuilt part of the railway requires more attention, especially in the morning when often clouds cover some valleys while the railway line is already in sunshine. Hence we’ll leave our hotel in the early morning to reach Arbaroba before sunrise. From here our freight train with the small Mallet class 440 will roll down to Lessa (no road access). In the first morning light, and hopefully above the clouds, we’ll head through the most scenic tunnel section of the line between Lessa and Arbaroba. After lunch we’ll continue the ascent to Asmara, double headed again! Our train will be hauled by 440 008 and a 442.



Another early morning call to get on the bus to Nafasit. On the very photogenic section Nefasit – Arbaroba with plenty of tunnels we’ll use the early morning light to make some remarkable pictures. Lunch break is planned in the destroyed station of Lessa. Today we’ll use a passenger train. In the early afternoon we’ll start from Lessa to Arbaroba. After taking water we’ll continue in the last light to Asmara.



Diesel day! In the morning we’ll charter a 53 years old Krupp diesel plus three Krupp freight cars and go down to Arbaroba. On the way back we’ll make several photo stops and runpasts. In the afternoon the cute railcar called “Littorinella” will go over the section Asmara – Shegereni. There is only space for 6 people in the Littorinella, so we’ll follow the little railcar by bus and arrange runpasts by radios.

In the late afternoon we'll have another steam freight train. We'll make some shots in the very last light near the summit.

In the morning we'll take a freight train and a passenger train down to Shegereni. Here we'll make some pictures with both trains and different arrangements. Because we need to start early in the morning to the airport, we’ll have a relaxed late afternoon in Asmara. You can enjoy having a cup of coffee in one of the numerous and very ambitious coffee houses in downtown Asmara. Sitting under palm trees and watching the people passing by, reflecting on the tour or reading a good book ...



About 1.30 hrs charter bus to the airport and return flight by Egypt Air Asmara – Cairo. Connecting flight to London.


Line description

im Hafen von Massawa

Further pictures you'll find in the Eritrea galleries section.

A report about an investigation tour to the line Asmara - Keren - Argordat you'll find here.

The line runs from Massawa harbour through relatively flat coastal land, with a dessert character up to Mai Atal (km 29). After Mai Atal several dry riverbeds are crossed by long stone arched viaducts before the ascent becomes noticeable. Before Ghinda (70 km, approx. 1,000m above sea level) there are the first tunnels. Then the really breathtaking part of the line starts, with many tunnels, bends, bridges and retaining walls. The summit is reached at 2,430m above sea level between Arbaroba and Asmara (km 118). After Asmara the line runs through slightly flatter country, but this part hasn’t been rebuilt yet.

The railway, as already mentioned, was built through some difficult terrain. There are photo locations, which only have room for ten to 15 photographers. In these cases we’ll make several run pasts until everyone has got the shot. This also means that strict discipline is required. Nobody should get in the way of others, even if their location is supposedly better. If this is indeed the case other people will feel the same and the position of the shot can be altered. Our time for photography is naturally limited by the shadows of the mountains in early morning and late evening and by the harsh light at midday. We won’t waste energy trying to get useful shots in the midday sun.

Brücken bei Moncullo

unser Zugchef

Please don’t get carried away with the scenery, we are in the mountains. One wrong step can lead to a fall that can seriously endanger your health or even your life. If you take part in this tour you do so at your own risk, particularly when getting out of the train along the line and moving through the terrain. If you aren’t up to reaching a certain photo point, for example because the wine the night before was very nice, please stay in the train! There will be other opportunities that can be reached easier and will be just as good.

We’ll not place any train lamps on the buffer beam of our locomotives because this wouldn’t be authentic. If you check historical pictures you’ll find out that the Italian locomotives almost never carried any lamps, only the German built locomotives used to have them. But, there is not a single German locomotive available.

Littorina am Hang



Eritrea is a country which has only recently gained independence. Before that, a civil war and independence war raged for decades. Even after that there was more fighting over the exact borders with Ethiopia. The country has not fully recovered from these long periods of war, there is widespread poverty. Unlike many other African countries this hasn’t lead to high crime. Eritrea is one of the safest countries in the whole of Africa. The locals are very friendly. Even though tourism is still in it’s infancy, our hotels are of a good standard (matching 2 or 3 star hotels in western Europe) and are clean.

Asmara: Käfer vor Oper

Kino "Roma" in Asmara

We expect temperatures of 25 degrees in Asmara and just above 30 degrees in Massawa, where it barely cools down at night, unlike Asmara where the temperature can drop to 5 to 8 degrees in the early morning. Rain is rather unlikely, but the area near Ghinda often experiences fog, which can allow for some really atmospheric shots – or make photography impossible for a couple of hours. Our hotel in Massawa has air conditioning.

Under 2,000 m height there is a risk of malaria the entire year. The best malaria prophylaxis is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes, so it’s recommended you wear long clothing in the evening. Long clothing is also a cultural necessity as half of the population is Muslim (the other half Christian). Short trousers are unsuitable for wearing in public even if it’s really hot.

The electricity supply (220 Volts) is reasonably dependable, often you will need an adapter for your plugs. There is a mobile phone network available, but no western company signed a roaming contract so far. That’s why you can’t use the mobile network of Eritrea. International calls are possible from our hotel in Asmara. You can also call abroad in the large towns via the telephone exchange. In Asmara and Massawa there is internet access.

You should take all the usual precautions for a stay in the tropics if you prefer a trouble free trip rather than a hospital stay. Basic rules like only eating pealed and/or cooked food and not drinking tap water should be abided by. Besides the local food, which you really should give a try, many Italian influences remain from the colonial time. It’s no problem getting a pizza in Asmara. You can order and buy lunch packs from our kind female attendants. Cold drinks can also be bought in the train for very reasonable prices. Reasonable priced sandwiches for lunch are available on our train.

Bergauf aus Tunnel 13 in Tunnel 14 (bei Arbaroba)

The railwaymen have already entertained several groups of railway enthusiasts and know what we want and how we want it. Now they even get used to the high demands of a FarRail Tours charter train event. Even so, we are in Africa where time has a different meaning from that in our hurried world. We have to account for problems on a railway and with engines that are only used every few weeks. Serious delays are possible. And with a temperature of 32 degrees Celsius in the shade there’s no room for frantic rushing around when solving a problem. But there will always be a solution. Don’t lose your temper or spoil other people’s fun if, for example, an injector doesn’t behave itself. The quality of their coal is doubtful and we may need some extra breaks to raise steam pressure. Even with the worst possible timekeeping you’re guaranteed many very good pictures of a great mountain landscape. In the case of technical problems with the locos we might have to cancel trains with no refund possible.

Later registrations will be accepted if flights and hotels are still available and the maximum number of participants hasn’t been reached.

Depot Asmara



Mallets in the Mountains - Italian Flair in Africa 20 to 35 participants £2,710
29.01.2010 – 06.02.2010 Single room surcharge £170
Registration Deadline: 10.09.2009
Arbaroba-Special 20 to 28 participants £680
06.02.2010 – 10.02.2010 15 to 19 participants £760
  Single room surcharge £50
Registration Deadline: 10.09.2009
Historic & Cultural Special 10 to 35 participants £570
26.01.2010 – 29.01.2010 Single room surcharge £58
Registration Deadline: 10.09.2009

The prices already include tips and departure tax in Europe and Africa.

Land only: please deduct £470.

The price includes:

Not included:

Above prices are based on specific bookings with the respective airlines, which have to be confirmed well in advance. Your early booking is hence appreciated.

As a service to our UK-based clients FarRail Tours accepts and will continue to accept payments made out in Pounds Sterling until further notice. However, please note that from January 28, 2009, all prices quoted in Pounds Sterling are indicative only and are subject to change without prior notice. This measure was taken by FarRail Tours because of the unprecedented volatility in the international foreign exchange markets and its impact on the valuation of the Pound Sterling versus other major currencies, namely the Euro as FarRail Tours' accounting currency.


Further pictures you'll find in the Eritrea galleries section.


© FarRail Tours - e-mail: Bernd Seiler - zurück zu FarRail Tours
Click here to return to FarRail Tours