LIBERIA:?Currently renovating the disused Bong Mining Railway with a view to resuming iron-ore shipments in June 2009, the giant steel supplier Arcelor-Mittal has hit upon a little local difficulty.

In common with many railways — both active and disused — across Africa, Asia and Latin America, the line is widely used by local residents with their own unofficial trains. Home-made skates – known locally as make-a-ways – carry people and goods between villages up and down the 260 km line linking Yekepa and Buchanan. Some enterprising individuals have apparently even launched a commercial operation to serve the market in Buchanan. According to the CEO of Arcelor-Mittal Liberia, Joseph Mathews, upwards of 250 skates are in use between km posts 6 and 18 alone.

Clearly concerned about the implications should a loaded ore train meet a make-a-way which could not clear the tracks in time, Arcelor-Mittal has launched a campaign to shift the un­official traffic from rail to road.

Starting in the Buchanan suburb of Upper Harlandsville, residents are being invited to trade in their make-a-ways for a new wheelbarrow, at the company’s expense. In addition, the first 50 users taking up the deal will be offered a three-month job with the iron ore company or its railway rehabilitation contractor Odebrecht Construction. Similar offers will be made in other villages along the line as rehabilitation work progresses.