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Trans-Saharan Railway - Between the Wars

After the Great War much interest was felt by France in the projected railroad lines across the desert of Sahara, between south Algeria and the French territory in western Africa. On 27 September, 1919, Le Genie Civil (Paris), published maps of Africa indicating the railroads already constructed and the trans-African lines which had been proposed before the war. The two principal trans-Saharan railroad lines were first that of the Chief Engineer of Roads and Bridges, Souleyre, who projected a line starting from Biskra and running through Touggourt and In-Selah, towards Timbuctoo, with a branch line connecting with Lake Tchad; and secondly the plan proposed by M. Andre Berthelot, a brief resume of which appeared in Le Genie Civil for July 25, 1914, whose point of departure was Colomb-Bechar, the terminus being South-Oranals.

Still other promoters projected a more extended program of communication between Algiers, the Niger, the Belgian Congo and British East Africa, by branch lines running respectively through the region of Timbuctoo, the terminus (Kano) of the Nigerian railroad, then Stanleyville, along the Congo River, and finally, Port Florence on Lake Victoria (the terminus of the British line, whose other end Is at Mombassn, a port on the Indian Ocean).

Thus it was proposed to connect Algeria (and consequently Morocco and Tunisia) first with western and equatorial Africa whose valuable products (particularly the mineral wealth of Katanga in the Belgian Congo) hold out flatterinar prospects; and finally, by an agreement with the future Cape to Cairo line, with the vast and prosperous regions of South Africa. Still other projects, scarcely less Impressive, have been a matter of recent agitation: the Paris-Madrid-Tangier-Dakar line, to which we shall refer further on, and that of the Trans-Soudan line started from Dakar (and from Conakry) and running towards Fort-Lamy and Khartoum, with its terminus at Port Soudan and Djibouti on the Red Sea, recommended by M. Tilho.

The ambitious Trans-African projects contemplating a continental and trans-continental traffic connecting London and Paris with Central Africa, on the one hand, by way of Marseilles, Algiers, the Belgian Congo, and the Great Lakes, and with South America on the other, by way of Marseilles, Algiers, the loop of the Niger and the transit from Dakar to Pernambuco, were not feasible. The same conclusion was reached concerning the project of a connection between Paris-Tangier-Dakar by a new line of standard gage, traversing the whole of Spain from Irun to Algeclras by way of Madrid, passing under the Straits of Gibraltar through a 40 kilometer tunnel, or more simply perhaps by means of ferryboats similar to those whlah are operated successfully both in Scandinavian countries and between France and England, and running directly from Tangier to Dakar by way of Fez (3,500 kilometers), thus securing a fast service from Europe to South America by way of Dakar.

The new economic conditions caused by the war did not permit the realization of projects having so large a scope; when even the reconstruction of a few hundred kilometers of the lines destroyed in the north and the east of France was a difficult task, and the service of the main lines was so uncertain that the Paris-Lyons express was commonly many hours late, etc., etc., it was easy to see that the French government cannot undertake such an onerous enterprise. Nevertheless, the future of the immense French African possessions was kept in mind, and it seemed permissible to indicate a few land-marks which may facilitate the labors of the next generation.

The scarcity and poor quality of the water obtainable In the desert areas of the Sahara precluded the use of steam for motive power. During the work of construction there was no time to make the necessary search for subterranean waters without retarding the progress of the work; then, too, the expense of bringing fuel from Europe would be prohibitive. It appeared preferable to lay plans for using either motor tractors of the Diesel type, or else electric traction by means of a current obtained from groups of motors of the same kind.

The law for the construction of the Chemin de Fer Mediterranée-Niger of 22 March 1941 authorized the use of material already in Algeria in order to keep it out of German hands. Construction work on the Chemin de Fer Mediterranée-Niger stopped at Kenadsa (extension of the Oran-Oujda-Bou Arfa line, after l'Afrique Francaise Noire entered the war in 1943. After Algerian independence, in March 1965 the governments of France and Algeria failed to agree on financing for further rail construction. In 1967 rail service beyond Bechar was abandoned and the Chemin de Fer Mediterranée-Niger was liquidated.




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Page last modified: 26-10-2011 18:37:05 ZULU