Senegal revives train line for religious festival

Senegal on Friday temporarily brought back into service a long-closed railway line to take worshippers to an annual religious festival.

Three trains, each capable of carrying 240 passengers, are being deployed on a 130-kilometre line between Thies and the holy town of Touba in central Senegal, the GTS railway company said.

Dozens of people, some of them dancing, gathered by the track at Thies to watch the delayed departure of the first four-carriage train, in old-fashioned green and grey livery, an AFP reporter saw.

“People are emotional about the train. All the seats for today’s departures have already been sold,” said GTS boss Samba Ndiaye.

“Passengers are going to travel in comfort and knowing what time they’ll arrive.”

The service will run between Friday and next Wednesday, helping to ease roads clogged by cars and buses heading to Touba for the Grand Magal pilgrimage.

The festival is staged by the Mouride Brotherhood, one of Senegal’s four orders of Sufi Islam.

The temporary train service, which also has stops at Diourbel and Mbacke, is being presented as a foretaste of permanent restoration of railway traffic.

The line, closed in 2018, is part of a network that France built to link its colonies in West Africa in the 19th and early 20th century.

Lack of track maintenance caused the network in Senegal to fall into disuse — a moment that started to change in December 2021 when a new 36-km line was inaugurated linking the capital Dakar with the new city of Diamniadio.

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