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Proud Earthling

We disrupt our Regional Rail Express summer series at Brașov and start our winter series:

October 11 2018

On a beautiful autumn afternoon, I visited the Eastern Railway at Trautmannsdorf an der Leitha near Vienna. To my enjoyment, this RTS class 2143 double header thrashed past. These photos are 4K-video-screenshots.

Consistent southerly winds brought summer temperatures and take-offs from Vienna Schwechat International Airport runway 16. This Emirates A380 took to the air as flight EK 128 to Dubai.
The uncut scene on video:


The big bird met a harvester and a grain train.

October 20 2018

A week later, Saturday afternoon, I was sitting inside the big bird. Past Brașov (alternative writing on map), we flew towards the dusk.

After little more than five hours including dinner and a sandwich we punctually landed at Dubai International Airport around 11 p.m. We parked somewhere on the field and had to take a bus for fifteen minutes to get to the transfer point from where I caught another bus returning almost the same way for another 20 minutes to reach terminal 2. I could rest for two hours, terminal two serves different passengers than the elegant terminal 3: from here, flydubai departs towards Eastern Europe and Africa, Air India Express flies to several Indian cities this time of night.

October 21 2018

The gate opened before 3 a.m. (still before midnight according to my internal clock), a bus took us to a flydubai 737-800 for flight FZ 657 / Emirates codeshare EK 2180. It was far from full, however, almost everyone took at least one giant Dubai duty-free bag of cigarettes with them. Legroom was comfortable, most people laid down to sleep soon after take-off. Emirates passengers received a free vegetarian British breakfast.

The "Qibla Compass" of the A380 was not needed on this flight, as we took a route directly east from Dubai past Riyadh and almost above Mecca until the Red Sea coast was reached and we turned south over Jeddah.

The descent started soon afterwards. To the left the sunrise over the Eritrean Red Sea coast near Massawa, to the right the mountains of Eritrea. The weather had gone crazy those weeks, with thunderstorms from Central Africa to the Persian Gulf, even across the Arabian Desert. On the Eritrean plateau it should have been dry season for more than a month now.

We have arrived in the Eritrean capital Asmara, at 7,628 ft next to Addis Ababa one of the highest capitals in Africa.

General information about the country which I will of course expand on over the coming reports:

After China 2008 and Bosnia 2010, I had once more decided to do a tour with Bernd ( ). Eritrea has been on my radar for some time now, however, the past years steam operations were not possible due to the lack of coal. Now they had received a shipment from South Africa, and we were the first tour group to give it a try.

Our visas were checked upon arrival - mine had been procured by Bernd in Berlin. Most other tour participants already had arrived during the night by Egyptair or Turkish Airlines.

In the fresh mountain air, a car was waiting to take us to the city. In the streets you can find new cars, second-hand vehicles from Europe, as well as Italian gems like this Officine Meccaniche (OM) Tigrotto (built 1957-72). The connection to the former colonial power (late 19th century - 1941) still is there. Asmara has been declared UNESCO world heritage site in 2017 - some describe it as "frozen city" - due to the many unchanged art deco buildings from colonial times. I will show pictures of the city in the following report parts.

Due to chaotic room allocations overnight, we did not drive to the booked hotel but to nominally more noble Albergo Italia. We were greeted there by our very friendly tour guide Thomas, providing espresso and water. Next, we could rest inside some rooms until noon. Sadly, you should not look too close concerning hygiene, it had gone downhill with the former noble hotel over the past years. Before noon, we continued to our Savanna International Hotel, where most people were accommodated. It proved hygienically slightly better, but not horribly satisfying for a price of about 80 dollars per night. Some stayed at hotels Crystal and Sunshine, these are more to be recommended.

At noon, we assembled at the "Ghibabo" garden restaurant and pizzeria opposite the government palace of president Isayas Afewerki in power since 1993, where it is strictly forbidden to take photos.
Soup was served, lasagne afterwards - the Italian influence is alive. A lady was preparing Eritrean coffee which is being roasted together with ginger.

Drinks had to be paid by us, so it was the first opportunity to spend some nakfas, the national currency. It is pegged to the dollar at a rate of 1:15, but not freely convertible. The 10-nakfa-note features a railway picture: the southside view of Obel Bridge with one of the two Soviet Ural trucks converted to rail using the bogies of Littorina railcar #6 in the mid-1990s. The image is pure fiction by the painter as the tractive effort of these trucks would never suffice to pull such a train. But they are used for track maintenance.
This 1997 note is not valid any more - the only distinction between newer ones is the missing white seal around the camel.

Three smaller busses served as transport during the week, at 1:30 p.m. we had reached Asmara station, depot and workshops. One of the Ural lorries was standing there.
The weather was warm and sunny despite the worse forecast, but it can be completely different on the other side of the hills where the Escarpment mountains drop 7000 feet down to the sea.

More about the spectacular railway line, of course I will give more info over the coming parts:

More in German:–Biscia

The smaller Mallet 440.008 (Ansaldo #1162 / built in 1915) waited at platform 1 with two open and two covered goods wagons. The passenger carriages can only be conveyed on the mountain grades by the larger Mallets. This time, most took their seats on the open wagon where benches stood ready.

Finally, the Eritrean adventure began! Just out of the station, the engine had to struggle with the steep grade as the summit of the line towards Massawa lies 1.6 miles from Asmara. The rest of the former line to Keren, Agordat and Biscia is not viable anymore as the city of Asmara had been partially built over the tracks.

Of course we were an attraction for passers-by. That same morning a group of Sudanese tourists had gone down the line in a passenger coach, so the railway served some customers apart from us.

Only few permanent bodies of water are visible, despite the recent rainy season and rainstorms. Workers had been busy to clear the line since the start of the dry season, so we could reach Ghinda. However, the recent rains probably thwarted our plans...

It did not matter now as only five minutes later the train had climbed to the summit and the first views into the amazing mountain landscape opened up.



Soon we passed through the first tunnel behind Asmara, #29. The capital is not large, right away you will find yourself amongst the rural population. Steel sleepers had been used for the construction of this doorway.

A wedding society.


First views of Durfo Valley.

We traversed the biggest viaduct on this section, the 4-arch viaduct.


View from the upper level to the third level of the line in the foreground, continuing on the other valley side towards Arbaroba in the background.

Subsequently, the line changes shortly to the other mountainside past Devil's Gate to reach Shegerini station - also known as km 110.4 or P.M. (Posto di Movimento) Durfo - through tunnel #28. This church is located just above it.


Everywhere in the countryside you are welcomed by large groups of children - the perspective is misleading, it was far from lonely up there. The standard phrases: "You!" - "You!". Followed by: "Gimme pen!", "gimme pencil", "gimme money", "gimme biscuit", "gimme caramel". We were well-equipped with pencils and other goodies, but often the abundance of children surpassed our supply.

The grown-ups had more important business.



It would be our only ride in the open wagon, from now on tarpaulins were to cover it for the photo charter. We had to be content with traveling inside the covered goods car.

The station building.

Just landed, and already in such a beautiful landscape. Around the corner waited one of the top spots: Devil's Gate - with view into the valley far below!


When going backwards you could see details of 440.008 otherwise leaking steam out of many nooks and crannies. We did not know yet that it was the engine in best condition...
First Mallets were delivered to Eritrea in 1907 by German company Maffei. Italian Ansaldo copied the design and built several more locomotives like this one in 1915. First, it was used in Italy for the construction of the Florence - Bologna line and later was transported to Eritrea with several others of its class in 1936-37.


The second run-past, already partly sunny!




National road P-1 Asmara - Ghinda - Massawa is leading across the tracks here.


The fourth try in full sun, with the weather forecast it was unlikely that it could have happened on the first day.


We took the busses to the next spot, the train followed in the distance. The green-turquoise lorry serves as water truck for the railway, water is fed to the loco by hose from the highway bridge.

The 4-arch viaduct also could be captured right away in sunlight!

A plan of this section can be found here:,_1998.svg



The second run-past simply was perfection...


Next time we will see the sunset - and sunrise! :) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to - An online railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used railroad books. Railroad pictorials, railroad history, steam locomotives, passenger trains, modern railroading. Hundreds of titles available, most at discount prices! We also have a video and children's book section. - An online model railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used books. Layout design, track plans, scenery and structure building, wiring, DCC, Tinplate, Toy Trains, Price Guides and more.

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