In Mauritania, 41 Polisario guerrillas and 17 government soldiers have been reported killed in a series of clashes around the strategic railway line which carries iron ore from the mines of Zouerate to the coast.
In Mauritania, 41 Polisario guerrillas and 17 government soldiers have been reported killed in a series of clashes around the strategic railway line which carries iron ore from the mines of Zouerate to the coast. The three days of fighting began on Monday (12 December) when the guerrillas attacked an ore train. The attack came within days of the railway being re-opened after a two-month shut down. The closure was caused by the abduction of two French technicians who had been repairing the line.
SYNOPSIS: The Zouerate railway probably needs more maintenance than any other line on our planet. That's because it carries the world's heaviest trains.
The rails wear out at an alarming rate and hundreds have to be replaced each year. The damage is caused not only by the weight of the trains but also by sun and sand.
Workmen find that the desert sun buckles the rails by a few hundredths of a millimetre. But that's enough over a distance to prevent the passage of trains. The sand damages the track in another way. it erodes the metal so that the joints on the rails have to be constantly recast. Workmen have to trim the joints back into shape.
A special train is then used to restore the track to its proper size. It passes along the rails grinding them down. Its effect on the rails parallels the sort of treatment the wheels of the ore trains receive. they too have to be replaced, bringing the weight of worn-out metal to over ten thousand tons each year.
The cost of repairing the line, which runs 640 kilometres (400 miles) is high. But it can't be avoided. Iron ore represents over 80 per cent of Mauritania's total exports, making this railway the country's economic lifeline. Without it there's no way that the ore can reach the Atlantic port of Nouadhibou. That point's not lost on the Polisario guerrillas who have attacked the line repeatedly over the last eighteen months, forcing the Mauritanian government to stockpile ore at the coast against the threat of a major disruption.