Liberia's human-powered wooden trains

Liberia's creative rail solution
Liberia's creative rail solution

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Liberia's creative rail solution 02:04

Story highlights

  • Liberia has a unique transport system - the "Make-A-Rail" train
  • Officially known as the Liberian Express, it is a wooden train pushed by operators and passengers
  • While the "Make-A-Rail" is cheap and environmentally friendly, pushing the train is hard work
Sitting beside the aging railway tracks running deeper into the forest of Liberia, we waited outside the frail wooden hut that was used as a makeshift railway station.
Thunder rumbled ominously in the distance but there was no timetable so we had to sit and wait.
After a few hours, the railway tracks began to vibrate with the sound of an on-coming train and the small band of passengers stood and looked down the tracks expectantly.
Coming into sight, rolling slowly down the tracks, was the Liberian Express, or what is called locally -- "Make-A-Rail." It is a small wooden frame, running on ball-bearings and pushed by both the 'Make-A-Rail" operators and passengers down the tracks to get to its destination.
We climbed aboard.
Two operators and a passenger, holding tightly to the wooden frame of what looks more like a cart, ran alongside and pushed the train. The tracks were visible through the floor and as we passed through the occasional village people would wave. On the slight declines, the "Make-A-Rail" would gain it's own momentum and the young men pushing would jump onboard and enjoy the ride.
"A lot of people, especially those with heavy commodities like charcoal, use these to take them to the market," explained one passenger, Fahnlon Gbakoyah. "It's cheap to transport and it's faster."
The journey from the end of the railway line to Liberia's capital Monrovia can take up to 36hours by "Make-A-Rail" --only a 3hour journey by road - but it costs half the price. However, more importantly, the railway line passes through villages that have little access by road.
"This helps our people in the village," said another passenger, John Walker. "If they get sick, we can put them in and quickly take them to hospital."
"Make-A-Rail" started in the 1990's during Liberia's 14-year civil war that left the country's infrastructure in ruins.
But it's hard work.
"You get tired, so you have to rest for five minutes and then you get more power and can push again hard," said Eric Pearson, one of the operators. "But it's tiring and makes my muscles sore."
But the train cannot roll faster than the storm clouds that gather overhead and another of "Make-A-Rail's" disadvantages quickly becomes apparent as we quickly get soaked in the rain.
We get off at the next station to find cover but the young men continue to push the train down the tracks -- a long journey ahead and plenty of obstacles, but they're determined to make it anyway they can.