Dar es Salaam has two entirely separate rail networks – one known as the TAZARA line and the other as the Central Line. Over a longer distance, the TAZARA line reaches Zambia, whereas the Central line connects cities south of Lake Victoria including Mwanza and Kigoma with Dar es Salaam. Each rail network within the Dar es Salaam city area also has a local commuter train service serving a handful of stations – known as the “City Train.” The two networks can never be combined as the they operate on different railway gauges – the TAZARA line is built to 1,067mm track gauge whereas the Central line is built to 1,000mm track gauge.
Both trains were designed for commuters to ease congestion on the roads however the Central Line network appears to be more useful as its terminus station is near the commercial district and city centre. At the opposite end of the short 45 minute journey on the Central Line “City Train” is Ubongo Maziwa station. This station is around 100 metres from the main Ubongo bus terminal; however connections between the two modes of transport aren’t particularly feasible – but clearly it’s possible if you know what you’re doing. The TAZARA line terminal is much closer to the airport and there isn’t a train station directly connecting the two networks.
The drivers view arriving Dar es Salaam Central station
Having arrived in Dar es Salaam’s Ubongo bus terminal the previous evening at around 6pm, I was completely oblivious to the fact that there was a railway station just few a hundred meters away. Instead, I caught a bus to “City Council Rapid bus stop” just opposite the Zanzibar ferry terminal. From here it was a short 10 minute walk to the Rainbow Hotel (in darkness).
In the morning I walked to the Central Railway station, at first with no expectations on catching a train as I was slightly worried and nervous about making this trip as it would mean venturing into neighbourhoods with definitely no foreigners around. Before reaching the station, I could tell a train had just arrived because of the wave of people walking down the street towards the commercial district and to my surprise no one gave me much of a second look.
At the station, I was greeted by the ticket seller, along with a friendly security guard who told me he was due to travel on the train. These interactions along with the general atmosphere of the station, suddenly made me feel much safer and I spontaneously bought a ticket and jumped on.
A snapshot of Dar es Salaam Central station
The train took around 45 minutes to reach Ubongo Maziwa station, travelling through Dar es Salaam’s suburban neighbourhoods. At times I felt safe using my phone and camera to take pictures – usually whilst the train was in motion and at other times I did not – usually when the train was stopped at a station. The way I looked at this was that if anyone wanted to rob me after seeing me use a camera or phone out of the window; it would be much harder to do so whilst the train was moving.
At Ubongo Maziwa station, the locomotive was detached and re-coupled up to the coaches at the opposite end. Whilst waiting to depart I took a walk around the locomotive and as usual, I did my best to catch the attention of the driver. It didn’t take too long before being invited up to the driving cab, where I stayed until reaching Dar es Salaam Central station.
Waiting to depart Ubongo Maziwa station back to Dar es Salaam Central station
The driver on this trip (up to the half way point) was Gilbert and I must say his cheerfulness made the whole journey an experience to remember. It was however a bit disconcerting that whilst being sat in the driver’s chair I barely had any forward visibility along the tracks. And to make it even more nerve-racking, people were literally crossing the track seconds before the train passed the same point.
As I was leaving Dar es Salaam Central station, the ticket seller who had remembered me from two hours earlier asked what I thought of the trip. From the security guards to the driver, all those that worked on the railway were as friendly as humanly possible.
Thank you for a great experience!
The people I met...
One of the many passengers who travel on the train daily to sell their goods and produce, in this case pumpkin seeds in the city centre
A driver at Dar es Salaam station, very proud of his job and rightly so
I never did catch his name, but this guy, selling tickets at Dar es Salaam's Central station was cheerful, kind and so polite
Driver Gilbert at the controls - thank you for the invitation to the driving cab
Driver Gilbert and myself, a quick snap before he finished his duty at the mid-way station
The conductor, ready with his pad of tickets
If you want to give this journey a go, read on but always keep in mind that this rail journey is nothing more than seeing what the Dar es Salaam suburbs are like - and having a ride on a train of course. If you do manage to combine it with a bus journey from Ubongo bus terminal then congratulations as you will probably be the first foreigner to do so!
The full timetable between Dar es Salaam Central station and Ubongo Maziwa station can be found on the Tanzania Railways Limited website. However, here are the departure times that enable a return journey to be completed (approximate duration is 2 hours) from Dar es Salaam Central station.
Monday to Friday: Dar es Salaam departures at 07:30, 09:30, 16:00, 18:00 and 20:00
Saturday: Dar es Salaam departures at 09:16, 16:00 and 18:00
Sunday: No departures
Last checked: 22nd March 2018
400 Shillings (US$0.20) – yes, just 20 cents each way
Tanzania Railways Limited – to access the “City Train” timetable, open the homepage, look for the “Business” drop down menu and click on “City Train.”
There are always more photos to be shared, but sharing them all on this journal page will just make it look cluttered – so if you want to see more photos for inspiration, check out my Flickr Tanzania – 2018 album.
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