FIANARANTSOA-CôTE EST RAILWAY
The Fianarantsoa-Côte Est railway connects the high plateau city of Fianarantsoa, the second largest city in Madagascar to Manakara, a port town on the Indian Ocean. Built by the French between 1926 and 1936, the train chugs along the 163 kilometer colonial railway route in around 8 to 12 hours – sometimes more. The scenery on the route is spectacular with waterfalls and plantations drifting by the open windows whilst the train passes through 48 tunnels and over 67 bridges whilst continuously dropping in elevation towards sea level.
Without roads passing through the isolated rural villages, the railway is an economic lifeline to the local Malagasy people. They use the train to transport their produce; bananas and coffee to Fianarantsoa and Manakara where it is then sold at local markets or exported internationally. At each station stop the villages spring into life, with barefooted women and children swarming the train and and hoisting their locally produced delicacies and spices towards the open train windows. The vibrant station atmosphere makes the journey a colourful and delightful experience.
The charming Fianarantsoa station is the starting point of this rail journey. Sitting at 1200 meters above sea level, the train is scheduled to begin its downhill decent to Manakara at 7am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. It’s the start of the journey so one would naturally expect the train to depart on time, but this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. The train is known to be unreliable with breakdowns frequently occurring but armed with a hammer, a few stones and a spare rail there's not much the train crew can't fix to get you to your destination (eventually). Just remember though, this is a slow train in Africa, meant for the local Malagsy people so keeping a close check on your expectations will make the journey an unforgettable and enjoyable, not to be missed experience.
Read my travel journal about my rail journey from Fianarantsoa to Manakara on Tuesday 21st April 2015...
Built by the French manufacturer Alsthom, and delivered to the Fianarantsoa-Côte Est railway in 1982 were six single cab diesel locomotives. Today however, only one remains in service, No. BB246 with the others being wrecked by derailments and accidents.
Inside Fianarantsoa maintenance works is a 1952 experimental Le Micheline railcar; 'Fandrasa'. Painted light blue and stripped of its interior seating, Fandrasa has seen better days, but a quick tour will reveal the fascinating experimental concept of replacing steel wheels with rubber tyres.
Standard Class Carriage
After years of neglect you can forget luxury and just expect bare essentials. The dilapidated standard class carriage, with chipped green external paintwork, a battered run-down interior feel and worn-out thinly padded benches are a far cry from European standard class.
First Class Carriage
The first class carriage has a slightly better all round feel. Used almost exclusively by foreigners, the carriage is far less crowded (reserved seating) and unless you are desperate to stand for hours on end squished up against the locals and their produce, then this carriage is for you.
Last updated 21.04.15
Departures from Fianarantsoa on Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday at 07:00
Departures from Manakara on Wednesday, Friday & Sunday at 06:45
Fianarantsoa to Manakara / Manakara to Fianarantsoa one-way:
1st class 10 US$
La Micheline Railcar
N.B. Map shows approximate route
Up to date info...
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No. 514 ‘Vintsy’ displayed at “L’Aventure Michelin” museum in Clermont-Ferrand, France
No. 516 ‘Fandrasa’ (ex. ‘Tsikirity’) located at Fianarantsoa carriage works on the Fianarantsoa-Côte Est railway
No. 517 'Viko-Viko' located at Antananarivo carriage works, used by Madarail for their touristic services to Andasibe and Antsirabe from Antananarivo.