For anyone who reads my writings with regularity, you know that I love trains. So it was naturally the case that I happened upon the main Bamako train station in the center of town. It’s quite a regal building that, like many former Colonial stations in Africa, has indeed faded from its past glory. It’s not entirely these stations’ fault given that they and the lines connected to them were originally built solely to extract from the countries in which they were placed. They weren’t like the stations and lines you find in Europe that were built to transport people and promote commerce.
This station was one of the rare exceptions though as it is actually a minor station that exists on a much larger line connecting Dakar in Senegal to Niamey in Niger. Quite a feat really and quite a crucial line to transport goods faster than the Niger river could. Various chunks of this service have fallen apart of the years and it was a sad moment when reported that the line had ceased running altogether from Dakar to Bamako in the middle of last year due to an accident in Eastern Senegal that killed five. There is no projected time as to when it will start running again, although those who are adventurous can take the train from Bamako to Kayes (the “pressure cooker”) in the far west of the country and then continue on bus to Dakar.
I stumbled upon a guy who actually wasn’t a full of crap, hustler guide and was able to tell some of the history of the station. The disuse he blamed on the Colonialists not maintaining it though. Given that Mali celebrates its 50th year of independence from France this year, that argument holds little water with me, although management by the Belgian firm, Vecturis has probably done very little to improve the rail.
I am an idealist and I wish that the train would run again some day as the bus rides around Mali are absolutely horrendous and having a train option would be great. The fact that bobbing down the Niger River to Timbuktu can compete with taking the bus leaves a lot to be desired in land routes.