Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Once upon a Mauritius

The history of rail transport in Mauritius began in the 1860s. The Mauritian rail network was quickly built and soon provided service to most of the island. It was a key factor in the socio-economic development of the island and, at it's peak, had almost 250 kilometres of track, both standard gauge crisscrossing the island as well as narrow gauge within the various sugar plantations. 

Due to unprofitability from 1948 to 1953, it eventually closed in 1964 after a century of operation. The last passenger train made its journey on 31 March 1956 between Port-Louis and Curepipe. Transport of sugar, heavy goods and general merchandise continued till 1964 after which the railway network was dismantled and sold as scrap metal.

However, with increasing road traffic congestion, plans surfaced again in 2009 for a new rail system - 45 years after the original railways were shut. In 2012, the government started working with the Singapore government as consultant for a rail-based light rapid transit (LRT) line between Port Louis and Curepipe. The project aimed to establish new transit corridors to relieve the main road arteries and the proposed line is to be 24.9 km long with 13 stops.

a documentary by Wassim Sookia

For rail enthusiasts and history buffs, there is a collection of old carriages hidden away in the garden behind the old colonial building of the Mauritius Museum of National History in Mahebourg. Both carriages are begging for restoration and the wooden one, particularly, needs minimal work to be rescued, conserved and put back on display. Somewhere it can take pride of place. The wooden carriage appears to be some kind of plush upper-class couch with an armchair inside with bits of upholstery still visible.


a documentary by Leslie Athanas Wallace

Update 2015: The Light Rail project has been shelved and trains will supposedly not be returning to the island anytime soon, read the blogpost here.

Author: Shahana Dastidar