Benguela railway

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Angola railway network (interactive version)
1067mm gauge tracks610mm gauge tracks
CFB Diesel locomotive, in 1973

The Benguela railway (Portuguese: Caminho de Ferro de Benguela (CFB)) connects the Atlantic port of Lobito, Angola, to the eastern border town of Luau and to the rail networks of south-eastern DR Congo, of Zambia and beyond.


The Benguela railway has a length of 1,344 kilometres (835 mi) in Angola and provides access to the inner part of the country, but achieved its greatest success through linking to the Copperbelts of Katanga province, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zambia. The railway is Cape gauge, 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in), as used on most railways in the region. Investors in the copper mines invested in the railway to export copper via Lobito, made possible by the link in southern Katanga from Tenke junction on DR Congo's Katanga Line to Dilolo and Luau at the border.

A freight train on the Benguela railway with a number of riders.

Passenger trains also ran between Lubumbashi and Lobito, connecting with passenger ship services to Europe. This provided a shorter route for Europeans working in the Katangan and Zambian Copperbelt, and the name "Benguela Railway" was sometimes used loosely for the Lubumbashi–Lobito route not just for the Luau–Lobito section to which it strictly applies.

Through the Katanga link and Zambia's connections to Beira and Dar es Salaam on the Indian Ocean, the Benguela railway is part of a transcontinental railway. It also connects indirectly to the rail system of South Africa. In its heyday the Benguela railway was the shortest way to transport mineral riches from the Congo to Europe.


The railway line roughly follows old trade routes between the ancient trading centre of Benguela and its hinterland of the Bié plateau.[1] In 1899, the Portuguese government initiated the construction of the railway to give access to the central Angolan plateau and the mineral wealth of the then Congo Free State.[2] A concession, running for 99 years, was granted to Sir Robert Williams on 28 November 1902.[3] His Benguela Railway Company took over the construction which commenced on 1 March 1903. Messrs Pauling & Co.[4] and Messrs Griffiths & Co[5] were contracted to build sections of the railway. By 1914 when World War I started, 500 kilometres (310 mi) had been completed. Construction was halted until 1920 after which the railway's connection to Luau at the border to the Belgian Congo was completed in 1929. The primary purpose was the export trade and the "domestic Angolan traffic would be of secondary importance."[2] The line proved very successful and profitable, especially in the early 1970s after Zambia closed the border with the then Rhodesia.[6]

After Angola's independence in 1975, the Angolan Civil War brought operations to a halt.[7] In the 2000s (decade), most of the infrastructure were still heavily damaged or destroyed. In 2005 talks were initiated between Angola and Zambia to restore operations. The People's Republic of China provided $300 to $500 million in financial aid to help the replacement of the war-damaged track.[8]


On 29 August 2011, Caminhos-de-Ferro de Benguela (CFB) resumed service linking Huambo with Benguela. CFB quit running the Benguela/Huambo route in October 1992 due to the armed conflict in Angola. After the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Lobito station, the guests rode a train along the Lobito/Benguela section using 54-person cars made in South Africa and a locomotive produced by General Electric that has been in service since 1973.[9]

On March 31, 2012, a test train ran the 202 km from Huambo to Kuito in Bié Province (actually to Cunje, some kilometers north of the actual city), with transport minister Augusto da Silva Tomás on board.[10] Tomás said that two teams worked on the reconstruction between the Bíe province and Luena, Moxico Province, one from Kuito eastward, and the other from Luena westward[11] On 25 May 2012, a technical test train reached Luena, says Tomás.[12] The government promised that the line would be operational up to the border station Luau, Moxico until the end of the year 2012. As in many infrastructure projects, the completion date has been delayed, but the connection to the DR Congo is expected to be complete by August 2013.[13]

According to Jornal de Angola in May 2012, CfB employs 1,321 workers, and transported 129,430 passengers and 5,640 tons of goods in 2011. Two trains per day run between Lobito and Benguala, one per week to Huambo, and three per week between Lobito and Cubal. [12] Rehabilitation continued in 2013; in August 2013 the first train reached the border town of Luau in almost 30 years.[14]


In the Tolunda rail accident on 22 September 1994, damaged brakes caused a train to plunge into a canyon, killing 300.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Benguela Railway Company. (1929)
  2. ^ a b William A. Hance and Irene S. van Dongen (October 1956). "The Port of Lobito and the Benguela Railway". Geographical Review (American Geographical Society) 46 (4): 460–487. doi:10.2307/212105. JSTOR 212105. 
  3. ^ "A Portuguese concession to construct a railway". The Beira Post (Beira, Mozambique). 13 December 1902. p. 3. Portugal has granted Robert Williams, a South African mine engineer, a concession for the construction of a railway from Lobido Bay, near Benguela, to the eastern frontier of Benguela. 
  4. ^ "Railway extension northwards". The Beira Post (Beira, Mozambique). 15 December 1909. p. 3. A contract has been placed with Messrs Pauling & Co, Ltd, for the extension of the Benguela railway, West Africa, from the existing railhead at km 198 to km 320, a distance of 122 km. It is ultimately proposed to extent this railway to the Congo Free State and eastwards to join the Rhodesian railways and the Cape to Cairo line. Messrs Pauling’s contract for the extension of the railway from broken Hill to the Congo frontier, a distance of 110 miles, is now completed. 
  5. ^ "Mineral Wealth of the Congo Free State". Mining Journal (12 October). 1907. Archived from the original on 2008-06-15. 
  6. ^ Portuguese Africa before the real storm. The Economist, Saturday, 24 August 1974, Issue 6835, Page 74.
  7. ^ Stephen R. Lewis (1990). The Economics of Apartheid. New York: Council on Foreign Relations. ISBN 0-87609-056-0. 
  8. ^ The Increasing Importance of African Oil (2006)
  9. ^ Comboio entre Benguela e Huambo opera após 19 anos de interrupção, Jornal de Economia & Finanças, 30 August 2011, page 3
  10. ^ "Comboio experimental do CFB chegou este sábado ao Kuito" [CFB Test train reached Kuito this Saturday] (in Portuguese). Luanda, Angola: Angop. Retrieved 2 April 2012. 
  11. ^ "Circulação do Comboio experimental Huambo/Kuito representa ganho da paz" [Run of test train Huambo/Kuito represents a gain of peace] (in Portuguese). Luanda, Angola: Angop. Retrieved 2 April 2012. 
  12. ^ a b "Navios em Cabinda e comboio no Luena" [Ships in Cabinda and train in Luena] (in Portuguese). Luanda, Angola: Jornal de Angola. 29 May 2012. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  13. ^ McClelland, Colin (Mar 25, 2013). "Angola Restore Copper Rail Line After Four Decade Halt". Retrieved 29 April 2013. 
  14. ^ "FIRST CFB TRAIN REACHES LUAU". Railways Africa. 20 August 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013. 
  15. ^ World's worst rail disasters BBC Article

Further reading[edit]

  • Benguela Railway Company. (1929). A brief history of the Benguela railway, describing its construction through Angola, Portuguese West Africa, and the important role it is destined to play in the development of Southern and Central Africa. London: Benguela Railway Company.

External links[edit]