ONE HUNDRED years ago, in 1902, a British company was awarded a concession to build and operate a railway from the coast at Lobito Bay in Portuguese West Africa through the province of Angola. Construction started in 1903, but it took until 1931 before the Benguela Railway reached the eastern border. The climb from the coast necessitated a Riggenbach rack section between League and Sao Pedro, with a 6·25% grade, which was later bypassed.
An extension to Tenke junction in the Belgian Congo was completed by the Chemin de Fer du Bas Congo au Katanga, linking Lobito to the main line that extended all the way to Cape Town.
To celebrate completion of the line, a special passenger train left Lobito on July 1 1931. It ran via Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe) to Beira in Mozambique, an epic 4700 km transcontinental journey that has never been repeated.
Much export traffic from the Congo copper mines used the Benguela Railway, reducing the shipping distance to Europe in comparison with South African ports. Vast eucalyptus plantations were established to supply Garratt locomotives.
During the civil war that followed Angolan independence the line was heavily mined, and trains could only run on a short section near the coast. Work to revive the through line began in 1997, but progress has been slow.
CAPTION: Trains in the Japanese town of Kioroshi were brought to a halt for up to 80 minutes recently when a bee became trapped in a point motor switch board. East Japan Railway spokesman Tsutomu Otsuki said ’they looked up and down but never thought it would be a bee that did it. I have never heard of a bee stopping trains before.’