Benguela railway

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Benguela Railway
Locomotiva do CFB em 1973.jpg
CFB Diesel locomotive, in 1973
LocaleAngola and D.R. Congo
TypeHeavy rail
Opened1905 (1905)
Line length1,866 km (1,159 mi)
Track gauge1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)
Electrification25 kV 50 Hz AC overhead catenary (planned)[citation needed]
Operating speed90 km/h (56 mph)
Highest elevation6,082 ft (1,854 m)
Angola-Congo-Zambia railway network
Mapa do Caminho de Ferro de Benguela.jpg

The Benguela Railway (Portuguese: Caminho de Ferro de Benguela (CFB)) is a Cape gauge railway line that runs through Angola from west to east, being the largest and most important railway line in the country. It also connects to Tenke in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and to the Cape to Cairo Railway (connecting the city of Kindu (DRC) to the city of Port Elizabeth in South Africa).

The line terminates at the port of Lobito on the Atlantic coast, from where Angola exports a wide variety of products, including minerals (from the Copperbelt region), food, industrial components and livestock.[1]

The section from Lobito to Luau is run by the Empresa do Caminho de Ferro de Benguela-E.P.[2] It crosses the Luao River, which lies on the border, to Dilolo (DRC). From there to Tenke, the railway is operated by the Société nationale des Chemins de fer du Congo.


The railway is Cape gauge, 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in), which is used by most mainline railways in southern Africa. The maximum design speed is 90 km per hour.[3] The design capacity is 20 million tons of cargo and 4 million passengers per year.[4] There are 67 stations and 42 bridges along the route of the railway.[5]

The highest point on the railway is 1,854 metres (6,083 ft).[6]



Type Manufacturer Notes Source
CKD8F CNR Dalian, Dalian, China In service [7]
C30ACi GE Transportation, Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S. In service 100 delivered 2016–2019[8]
Euro Dual Stadler Rail, Bussnang, Switzerland Ordered and in delivery 20 dual-mode locomotive to be delivered within electrification project[citation needed].


The railway line roughly follows old trade routes between the ancient trading centre of Benguela and its hinterland of the Bié plateau.[9] 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.[10] A concession, running for 99 years, was granted to Sir Robert Williams on 28 November 1902.[11] His Benguela Railway Company took over the construction which commenced on 1 March 1903. Messrs Pauling & Co.[12] and Messrs Griffiths & Co[13] 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 to facilitate export trade, while "the domestic Angolan traffic would be of secondary importance."[10]

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", or also "Katanga-Benguela railway", was sometimes used loosely to refer to the entire Lubumbashi–Lobito route, rather than the Tenke–Lobito section to which it strictly applies.[citation needed]

In its heyday, the Benguela Railway was the shortest way to transport mineral riches from the Congo to Europe. The line proved very successful and profitable, especially in the early 1970s after Zambia closed its border with the then Rhodesia.[14] The railway reached an operational peak in 1973 when it transported 3.3 million tons of cargo, generated freight revenues of $30 million, and had 14,000 employees.[15][6] Until the early 1970s, the railway was operated entirely by steam locomotives, oil-fired from the coast to Cubal, and then wood-fired from Cubal to the interior. Wood was supplied by eucalyptus trees grown on company-owned tree plantations.[16] Steam locomotives outnumbered diesels as late as 1987.[6]

Soon after Angola gained its independence from Portugal in 1975, the Angolan Civil War broke out. The railway was heavily damaged during the war and progressively fell into disuse. The workshops in Huambo were destroyed. Ballast cars had to be coupled to the front of locomotives to detonate mines.[6] By 1992, only 340 km (210 mi) of the railway remained in operation.[17] When the 99-year concession expired in 2001, only 34 km (21 mi) remained in service, along the coast from Benguela to Lobito.[18]


The railway was 90% owned by Tanganyika Concessions (Tanks), a London-based holding company. Société Générale de Belgique purchased a minority share in Tanks in 1923 and acquired a controlling interest in 1981.[19][20][6][21] The Belgian company remained the controlling owner of the railway when the concession expired in 2001, at which point ownership of the railway passed to the Angolan government.[22]

After the Angolan Civil War ended in 2002, the railway was reconstructed between 2006 and 2014 by the China Railway Construction Corporation at a cost of $1.83 billion.[3] 100,000 Angolans were employed on the railway reconstruction. Trains reached Huambo in 2011, Kuito in 2012, and Luau near the Congolese border in 2013.[23][24][25] The rebuilt railway was formally inaugurated in February 2015.[18]

According to Jornal de Angola in May 2012, Empresa do Caminho de Ferro de Benguela-E.P. employed 1,321 workers, and transported 129,430 passengers and 5,640 tons of goods in 2011. Two trains per day run between Lobito and Benguela, one per week to Huambo, and three per week between Lobito and Cubal.[26]

On 5 March 2018, ore transport was restarted from the Tenke Fungurume Mine, in the DRC, from where copper and cobalt are extracted, and the cargo transported to the port of Lobito. From that date the railway went into full operation, connecting the city of Tenke to the city of Lobito.[2]


The Benguela railway line is to be electrified from Lobito to Cuamba.[citation needed]


In the Tolunda rail accident on 22 September 1994, damaged brakes caused a train to plunge into a canyon, killing 300.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Angola to launch concession for Benguela Railway. International Railway Journal. August 25, 2021.
  2. ^ a b Empresa Archived 19 February 2019 at the Wayback Machine. Caminho de Ferro de Benguela-E.P.. 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Chinese company completes massive Angolan railway". Xinhua. 13 August 2014. Archived from the original on 17 August 2014. The 67-station railway has a design speed of 90 km per hour, involving a total investment of 1.83 billion U.S. dollars, according to the company. ... The railway, built in the form of EPC (engineering, procurement, construction), not only adopted Chinese standards, but procured all equipment from China. ... When it is fully operational, it will be able to carry 20 million tonnes of cargo and four million passengers annually, according to earlier reports.
  4. ^ "Chinese company completes massive Angolan railway". Xinhua. 13 August 2014. Archived from the original on 17 August 2014.
  5. ^ Zhao, Lei (16 February 2015). "Angola rail line, built by China, gets rolling". There are 67 stops and 42 bridges, significantly facilitating travel and trade, project engineers said, noting that many Angolans have moved to places along the line. Trains can run at speeds of up to 90 km/h on the Benguela line.
  6. ^ a b c d e Noble, Kenneth (13 November 1989). "Railroad in Angola to Be Revived". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "CNR Dalian locomotives arrive in Angola". Railway Gazette. 13 August 2012. ANGOLA: CNR Dalian has delivered the first five of 15 diesel locomotives ordered last year. Rated at 1715 kW, the 1067 mm gauge CKD8F locomotives have a top speed of 160 km/h and feature air-conditioned cabs and dust filters for use in the desert environment.
  8. ^ "GE to supply 100 locomotives to Angola".
  9. ^ Benguela Railway Company. (1929)
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "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.
  12. ^ "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.
  13. ^ "Mineral Wealth of the Congo Free State". Mining Journal (12 October). 1907. Archived from the original on 15 June 2008.
  14. ^ Portuguese Africa before the real storm. The Economist, Saturday, 24 August 1974, Issue 6835, Page 74.
  15. ^ Teixeira, Luis. "EMPRESA DO CAMINHO DE FERRO DE BENGUELA- E.P." Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 29 March 2015. In 1973 the Railroad reaches the maximum of its transportation: 3.279.439 tons, including 1.609.387 tons of international traffic.
  16. ^ "Benguela - More than just a current". The Heritage Portal. 11 January 2015. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2015. The CFB, up until the early 1970's, was steam operated, with the locomotives being predominantly wood burning (80%). Cubal was an engine changing point on the line where the oil fired engines coming up from Benguela, on the coast "came off" and wood fired engines took over for the slog up to Nova Lisboa (now Huambo), 5 570 feet above sea level. ... To the east of Cubal the CFB grew eucalyptus (blue gum) forests which were located at appropriate intervals along the line for the refuelling of the engines.
  17. ^ McClelland, Colin (25 March 2013). "Angola Restore Copper Rail Line After Four Decade Halt". Bloomberg Business. Service along most of the route was discontinued after the start of Angola's civil war in 1975 at the end of colonial rule. Trains ran from Benguela to Huambo about 340 kilometers east until 1992. Reconstruction began in 2006 after a $300 million loan from the China International Fund.
  18. ^ a b "Three presidents inaugurate rebuilt Benguela Railway". Railway Gazette. 16 February 2015. Operations were disrupted by civil war from 1975, and through traffic to DR Congo ceased in 1981. By the time the concession expired in 2001 the line had been wrecked by war and neglect, with only the 34 km (21 mi) coastal section between Benguela and Lobito still functioning.
  19. ^ Clarence-Smith, W.G. (1985). The Third Portuguese Empire, 1825–1975: A Study in Economic Imperialism. Manchester University Press. p. 131. Nevertheless a high proportion of the loan capital fell into Belgian hands, and in 1923 the Société Générale and its associates, the Banque d'Outremer, bought a block of shares of Tanganyika Concessions, the holding company for the railway, and obtained a representative on the board of directors.
  20. ^ Hanlon, Joseph (1986). Beggar Your Neighbours: Apartheid Power in Southern Africa. Indiana University Press. p. 168. In 1981 the Belgian holding Société Générale bought control of Tanganyika Concessions which owns 90% of the Benguela Railway.
  21. ^ "Tanks Group Archive c. 1900-1960s". The University of Manchester Library. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2015. Tanks Group Services Ltd was a London-based holding company for several railway and mining concerns in Central and East Africa that were associated with the mining engineer and entrepreneur Sir Robert Williams (1860–1938). ... In 1899 Tanganyika Concessions Ltd (Tanks) was founded on behalf of the Countess of Warwick to exploit minerals in Northern Rhodesia, with Williams as managing director.
  22. ^ "Benguela - More than just a current". The Heritage Portal. 11 January 2015. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2015. The ownership of the railway has since reverted to the Angolan government, on the expiry of the concession on the 28th November 2001.
  23. ^ Comboio entre Benguela e Huambo opera após 19 anos de interrupção, Jornal de Economia & Finanças, 30 August 2011, page 3
  24. ^ "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.
  25. ^ "FIRST CFB TRAIN REACHES LUAU". Railways Africa. 20 August 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  26. ^ "Navios em Cabinda e comboio no Luena" [Ships in Cabinda and train in Luena] (in Portuguese). Luanda, Angola: Jornal de Angola. 29 May 2012. Archived from the original on 31 May 2012. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  27. ^ 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]