Visiting Dar es Salaam Central Railway Station today was a heart wrenching experience. Coming from a country where trains are public transport no. 1 there was a certain expectation to be able to take a train ride out of Dar one sunny weekend to come.
My colleague and guide for the day was quick to point out that trains don’t run reliably. In order to get somewhere the bus is the preferred method. As his family lives in Mwanza he takes the bus home every three months. It’s a journey of 18 hours. One way.
Let’s recap: Dar is a megacity with between 5 and 7 million people (depending who you ask). There is a sea port, an airport and a street network that’s good enough to transport fresh roses the airport with destination Europe. The train system seems to be Tanzania’s step child from a time when Germans ruled this country a hundred years ago. As I entered the station there was a board. It looked important and a bit cryptic. What it says: next day no train arriving and one single train departing. In one day. In a city of many million inhabitants.
I remember the evening at a friend’s apartment next to Zurich main station. We stood at his stately windows and just watched the action for some minutes. There was a train arriving or departing every 25 seconds on average, as he had calculated. 400’000 people commuting by train every day.
While the scene in Zurich had been exciting, the whole setting in Central Dar was serene – it was evening and nobody was traveling anyways. The ticket booth looked like in an old movie and the track stood deserted. It is only fair to state that there was a shiny train carriage parked behind an old train. There remains a glimmer of hope that Tanzania will be investing in the future of its Northwest-bound railway track.
For an account of how a train ride from Dar es Salaam to Mwanza might turn out, check out the excellent website of “The man from seat 61” (at the bottom of the page).
Postscriptum: What I found out after some internet research is that there is a modern railway station halfway between the city center and the airport (called Tazara). Its trains are traveling to Zambia – this kind of restores my hope in safe public transport.