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Little Train of the Suburbs dodges Dakar's traffic nightmare

media Trains at the Dakar railway station Yaamboo/Wikimedia Commons

Drivers in Dakar liken driving to a waking nightmare. Roads are congested from sunrise to sunset, meaning that what should be a one-hour journey across the Senegal’s capital takes several hours. As a result thousands of people outside the capital rely on trains to commute to and from Dakar.

In the only railway station in the centre of Dakar, hundreds of people queue to board a commuter train heading to the suburbs of the capital city. This railway was established in 1987 to cater for the transport needs of those in the suburbs.

The Petit Train de Banlieue (little train of the suburbs) is one of the two commuter trains currently operating along this line. Most of the passengers are women who bring goods such as fruits and vegetables to sell in the city. Their business is made possible thanks to this train service.

"I sell clothes in Dakar," says Astou Fall. "Road transport from our areas to Dakar is always chaotic, long and exhausting. But since we have this train service, we get to the city on time and without much hassle."

While road transport is relatively expensive for many people living on Dakar's outskirts, they have no complaints about the train fares.

"This train service is the best thing that happened to the people of the suburbs," says Kader: "It’s affordable and we can even make multiple trips to the city per day. We are in the rainy season and most of the roads in the suburb are inaccessible. This train is the only reliable form of transport especially for those in the suburbs."

The Little Train of the Suburb was initially called the Little Blue Train in reference to its colour. But, following a change of rail service in 2003, the name was changed and the service has improved. The rail way has since been upgraded and passenger waiting rooms are being built.

Pikine is one of the districts where infrastructure is being upgraded. Across the railway construction workers are laying bricks to adjust the barrier separating the railway from market stalls and houses.

"We are extending the height of the wall for security reasons," says superviser Amadou Diagne. "This is part of a bigger infrastructure which includes upgrading railway tracks. The plan is to build more tracks to accommodate more trains in the future."

The funding for the improvement of the rail service comes from Senegal’s development partners such as the government of India. It is estimated that 25,000 people use the Little Train of the Suburbs everyday. The better the services, the more these people will commute by train into central Dakar, with luck easing congestion on the roads.

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