Eritrea 2018 - 8: Morning in Asmara I (50 p.) is a free online Railroad Discussion Forum and Railroad Photo Gallery for railroaders, railfans, model railroaders and anyone else who is interested in railroads. We cover a wide variety of topics, including freight trains, passenger and commuter railroads, rail news and information, tourist railroads, railway museums and railroad history.


Proud Earthling

To the previous part of the series:
Eritrea 2018 - 7: Camels, Donkey and Bike Racing (50 p.)

Video for this series:

October 24 2018

We drove uphill from Nefasit to Arbaroba by bus. You can see the abandoned station building of Lessa below. One steamer should be running uphill, its replacement downhill - but none could be spotted here.

We actually met 442.55 - not encountered under steam yet - at Arbaroba. Take a closer look at the carriage as we will not see it again: it is the former governor's coach from 1913. During a 1952 visit it also had been used by Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. Since then, all passenger carriages have been converted to third class.

Two locos under steam met at Arbaroba, 442.54 also was there.

Don't rejoice too early: Bernd inspected 442.55 more closely and ascertained that both injectors were not working... So, there was a full station, but only full of defective engines - would we be able to do something lineside the next day?

The following images from Asmara were taken on October 24, 25 and 28 2018.

Our morning view in front of the Savannah International Hotel.

On October 28 2018, we did a sightseeing tour of the city centre.
The sign on the building is indicative of the state of the neighbouring country on the other side of the Red Sea.


View along central Harnet (= "Freedom") Avenue.

Bus stop in front of the Catholic Cathedral built 1921-23. We will go sightseeing in detail later.

Reason for establishing the UNESCO world heritage site "Asmara: a Modernist City of Africa" in 2017: The uniform cityscape featuring many Art Deco-buildings from Italian colonial times. Amongst them several cinemas like Cinema Impero which had been erected in a late phase, 1937. The name relates to Mussolini's "new Roman Empire" which soon crumbled away. After the failed Italian invasion of Ethiopia, British led forces took Eritrea comparatively easily in 1941 - it was one of the first Allied gains in WWII.

More about Asmara:


These Christian posters on many walls remind me of Bulgaria.


We collected some tour participants from Albergo Italia on October 25 2018 - I have shown the interior in the first report part.

Subsequently, we arrived at the station and depot.

This expected us: 0-4-0 shunting engine 202.008 - behind 202.010 - was being fired. We could not do anything lineside at least until noon. So, we preponed the program scheduled for Saturday morning. Both class 442s at Arbaroba were not serviceable. Sadly, also one of the only two engine drivers became sick and was hospitalized - they are not the youngest anymore... We were quickly running out of manpower and options, just engineers are allowed to fire locos. One option still was available, more about it later.

A strange sight - even Bernd had not experienced anything like it on his world travels: taking water by bucket!


The plate does not fit, it belongs to 202.004. Correctly it should say: 202.008 (ex 202.108, Breda/Milano #2454, built in 1937).



Ural-loco #2 first hauled 202.010 out of the depot aided by muscle power.


Asmara station is known to be home to a few giant African spurred tortoises. The animal chased tour members all over the compound throughout the day with astonishing speed and persistence.
More about the third largest species of tortoise:



202.010 was shunted out of the way. The lady is the boss of the railway.



Ural-loco #2 returned to pull 202.008 outside. The crew did not succeed without sanding, on the line somehow they neglected to do it.

See video:

The shown tractive effort lets the 10-nakfa bill seem even more unrealistic:


A water lorry already seen at Devil's Gate was in use. We learned that the depot water pump did not work either. Solutions like parking the truck on a nearby loading ramp or hiring a water pump were rejected. So, the workers formed this human chain - which only was viable for the smaller loco.



The door of Ural-loco #2.

Nice, but no help.

The tortoise even set its sights on the lorry, making it wobble slightly via the wheels. The turntable in the foreground also was stuck.




One of the very few young guys first spilled his wheelbarrow load, then continued after shovelling it back in.
442.56 in the background, which looked fine but supposedly did not work.


Theoretically ready for departure – we will continue next time with an excursion to the workshops.

We return to the city centre on October 28 2018 with a common sight. Many Eritreans, however, wore the standard plastic sandal - a model which I definitely owned at the beach in 1980s Yugoslavia.

We parked the bus near the market hall.

The synagogue erected in 1906 is the second-oldest religious building in Asmara after the Greek-Orthodox church.

We were welcomed by the last remaining member of the local Jewish community which had formed because of economic opportunities in the new colony and as refuge from persecution in Europe. Eritrea had also been used by the British for internment camps for Jewish rebels in Palestine after WWII, prisoners included the later first Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir.

The history of Jews in Eritrea:

Older Jewish communities existed around Ethiopia centuries before, most have emigrated to Israel nowadays:

BBC article about our host Samuel Cohen from 2006:


The imposing interior was illuminated. Merchants formed the core community in the early 20th century, land for religious purposes was provided by the city. Asmara has been built almost completely from scratch by the Italian colonial power, only villages existed in this area before.

The Torah shrine housing two Torah scrolls was opened for us.

Within one hour, we learned much about the history of the city. The gentleman had established small museums, one about Queen Elizabeth II. He viewed the current situation in Asmara positively, especially the new peace process which is based on the 2002 border agreement after the latest 1998-2000 war against Ethiopia. He also felt that Eritrea was a quiet country with all religions living together in harmony. He presented a picture showing the main religious leaders meeting with long-time president Isayas Afewerki (whom he always referred to as "His Excellency").

The repression of religious groups not belonging to the mainstream is common in Eritrea. Also, never forget these stats about the country:
Rank 179/180 of the World Press Freedom Index 2018
Rank 151/167 of the Democracy Index 2017
Rank 180/187 on the index of GDP per capita 2017

The quick cooperation between Eritrea and Ethiopia after just a few months of peace is remarkable.


Outside in the streets.

An Art Deco building just opposite.

More from Asmara next time! :)
Last edited:

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
Thanks once again for this series. I will follow up reading your references as a lot of Ethiopians and Eritreans live in the Seattle area. There is an Ethiopian or Eritrean church a few miles from my home. 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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