The Longest Train in the World: the Mauritanian Mineral Train

The Longest Train in the World: the Mauritanian Mineral Train

The
Mauritanian Mineral Train is one of the most epic train rides one can take. This
humongous set of train cars – in fact, the longest in the world – can sometimes
measure up to 2.5 kilometres and the railway it rolls on is made of a single
line of 704 kilometres.


Thursday January 01, 1970

Apart
from its size, what is special about it is that the owners, the state agency Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière (National Mining and Industrial Company,
or SNIM) allows people to jump on the train and use it as a mean of
transportation. The train goes from the mine deep inland of Mauritania in
Zouerate and carries iron ore to the port of Nouadhibou and then back. Most
people ride it until Choum.


Thursday January 01, 1970

It is the experience of a lifetime, blasting through the
Sahara without a roof over your head, rocked by the sheer power of the
locomotive and spending the night under the starry, pristine sky of the desert.
Curious about how to ride it?


Thursday January 01, 1970

It’s not official

The SNIM
lets people board the train and use it as transportation, but do not expect any
infrastructure around it. There will be no ticket, no food car or conductor to
tell you where you are. It is also not bound to a timetable and might leave
earlier or later than the usual departure time. It is thus very important to
have a local contact who will be able to organize your trip and get the latest
updates about the departure.

Likewise,
the arrival time is not set in stone and the trip can take anywhere from 9 to
15 hours. The train also makes a few stops on the way, but nobody will call
them and the length of time the train will be stopped varies from time to time.
For this reason, we highly discourage you from leaving the train at the stops.
The train starts very abruptly and you could easily be stranded in the middle
of nowhere.

The most
important thing to remember is to bring an offline map app (such as maps.me) so
you can keep track of your location. Have an offline map because mobile
connection in Mauritania is notoriously bad. If travelling inland, you wouldn’t
want to stay on the train past Choum and end up in Polisario-controlled Western
Sahara, illegally leaving Mauritania.

You have to pick a direction

The
train can be taken in both directions. You can either drive up to Choum and
take it on its way from the mine to the coast, at Nouadhibou, or the other way
around. The train usually leaves Choum around 6 pm and Nouadhibou around 4 pm.

Taking
it on its way from the mine to the coast means that there will be iron ore on
the cars; taking it the other means that the car will be empty.

At YPT, we prefer taking it empty as it offers the best of both worlds. When the car is empty, you can still see the view outside by using the ladders to prop yourself up. However, when you are tired of looking out, you can go down the ladder under the shelter of the walls to either stay under the shade when it is too hot or block some of the wind and sand.

It is also much safer as you are not walking on a soft and uneven surface, but walking on flat metal. You can also place your things flat on the ground and organize the whole car to your liking. If you wanted, you could even pitch a tent in there.

If you are in a group, it is definitely safer to travel in an empty car, as you will all be able to move without having to crawl. In an empty car, 10 people can easily fit and have plenty of room.

You can cheat, but …

This may not be everyone.

We get it: for some strange people, the idea of spending a night in an open mineral ore train car is either not that interesting, or may even be scary. Know that there is one passenger car attached to the end of the train and that it is possible to do the ride from there. However, in our opinion, this is much less enjoyable and even maybe less comfortable than the empty train car.

The
passenger car is a car with cabins each containing 6 bunks. Again, this car is
just put there by the company to reduce the amount of people in the open cars;
nobody actually maintains it. It is extremely dirty, old and crowded with
people as the bed and spaces are first come, first serve.

For this
reason we felt like the open cars, where you can have a whole car to yourself
and a guaranteed view of the desert, with sunset and a moonset (yep, it exists
and it is incredible here in the Sahara) is the best choice. One advantage of
the passenger car is that it has a washroom, but it is truly nasty.

You won’t sleep much

If you
are in the passenger car, you won’t sleep much because the ride is still
extremely bumpy, warm and noisy. In the open-air car, you’ll experience what we
tenderly nicknamed the ‘’sonic booms’’. The sonic booms are the tremors and
loud noises caused when the cars hit each other. You can expect your whole body
to shake and a very loud noise to be caused, at any time. It gets the
adrenaline pumping and is definitely a large part of the experience.

Because
you won’t sleep much, you should have accommodation prepared upon arrival. If
you take the train to Nouadhibou, it is not so bad as you will arrive in town
in the morning. Heading to Choum, however, will see you getting in at around 3
am. If nobody is picking you up there, you might find the night quite long.

It gets cold – really cold

You
might think that the desert is always hot, but the truth is that when the sun goes
down, the temperature sinks dramatically. And in the wind-chill factor and it
gets freezing past midnight. It is therefore essential to bring very warm
clothes and blankets with you. Another advantage of the empty car is that you
will be able to move around to warm yourself up. You could even bring a thermos
of hot drinks for the night or some coal to brew Saharan tea on the spot.

What to bring

Since
you’ll have to haul your stuff on the car, you don’t want to have big luggage.
You can always arrange transportation for your bulky things by car and travel
only with a bag containing what you need.

Make
sure to bring some food, such as fruits and sandwiches. You don’t want to eat
too much, as it is not too convenient to make toilet whilst onboard, but you’ll
definitely be hungry after a few hours.

Bring
plenty of water; if you run out, you’re out until arrival.

Blankets
are a good idea, as mentioned and maybe a mat to make the floor a bit softer.

The ride is long, so you can think about bringing books, cards and games. A good idea would be to bring chalk to draw on the car’s walls and fool around.

Bring a
fully charged power bank to make sure your phone doesn’t run out of power.

The
train gets extremely dusty, especially if you ride it when it’s loaded up, as
it is basically carrying iron dust. You might want to bring trash bags to wrap
your bags in so that they don’t get too dusty. You could also wear old clothes
you don’t mind throwing away. To protect your eyes, nose and mouth from the
dust, do like the locals do: wrap a scarf around your head and wear sunglasses.

With these few tips in mind, we are sure that you will have the experience of a lifetime riding the mineral train of Mauritania. The scenery is incredible, the adventure will get your blood pumping and, if travelling with friends, good times are bound to happen!

The easiest way to experience the mineral train, however, is surely to join us on our next Saharan Odyssey tour!
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