History of rail transport in Liberia
In the early 1960s, three long distance railway lines were constructed in Liberia, mainly for the transport of iron ore from mines to port facilities. Of about 480 km (298 mi) in total length, they were the Mano River Railway, the Lamco Railway, and the Bong Mine Railway, respectively.
All three of these lines were later closed down, due to the effects of the two Liberian Civil Wars (1989–1996 and 1999–2003). As of August 2010, only the Bong Mine Railway had been restored to operational condition.
In the 19th century, Liberia found it difficult to get foreign loans which made infrastructure projects almost impossible. Under the presidency of Edward James Roye, a plan was drawn up to find foreign capital to build a railway into the interior in 1871, but after Roye's assassination, the funds were directed elsewhere and the railway was never built. As early as the 1920s, the establishment of railways was envisaged as part of the economic development of Liberia's mineral resources. These railways would have been constructed by the British Liberian Development Company. The national bankruptcy of Liberia and the intervention of the U.S. firm Firestone Tire & Rubber Company foiled these plans.
During World War II, the United States began preparations for the exploitation of the iron ore deposits in Liberia. The main element of this investment process was the Freeport of Monrovia, which was opened in 1948 as the first deep sea port in the country with a rail connection.
Mano River Railway
Liberia's first long distance railway, the 92 mi (148 km) long Mano River Railway, was built in 1960. It connected the western mining areas on the Mano River with Monrovia, via the city of Tubmanburg. This railway was 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge.
The majority of Liberia's mines are located in its northern border area. Further south, a second iron ore loading port was set up in 1963, on the coast near Buchanan. The associated 166 mi (267 km) long Lamco Railway was simultaneously put into operation, to link the Lamco mine at Yekepa, near the Guinean border, with the new port.
The Lamco Railway was built as a single track 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge line, and had eight intermediate stations with passing loops. It was one of the first iron ore railways to be designed specifically for use by long trains, and to be fitted with modern aids to operation, including centrally controlled signalling. Trains on the Lamco Railway were normally made up of three 2,000 hp (1,491 kW) locomotives hauling ninety ore cars. When loaded, they carried a total of 10,530 long tons (11,794 short tons; 10,699 t) of ore. As at 1980, the maximum tonnage of ore carried was 13,000,000 long tons (14,560,000 short tons; 13,208,610 t) per annum, and the rolling stock fleet comprised 14 locomotives and 510 ore cars.
Bong Mine Railway
In the 1960s, a German private investment group acquired a mining concession in the Bong Range area and founded the DELIMCO mining company. To transport the Bong Range iron ore to Monrovia for export, another railway line, which became known as the Bong Mining Railway, was constructed in 1964. It is also standard gauge, and is 48 mi (77 km) long.
Effects of the civil wars
During the civil wars, parts of Liberia's rail network were cut off, and train operations had to be shut down due to lack of profitability. Meanwhile, Chinese construction crews worked on a renovation of the facilities, as China was interested in further developing Liberia's mineral resources. The Tubman Bridge, at 240 m (787 ft) in length the most important railway bridge in the country, was being reconstructed in 2011. It forms part of the Mano River Railway.
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- de:Bong Range
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