In Senegal, the return of the train to take pilgrims to Magal de Touba

Like every year, hundreds of thousands of Mourides – even several million – flocked, Monday, September 4, to the religious city of Touba, in Senegal, to commemorate the departure into exile in Gabon of the founder of this Muslim brotherhood, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, in 1895

In Senegal, the return of the train to take pilgrims to Magal de Touba

Like every year, hundreds of thousands of Mourides – even several million – flocked, Monday, September 4, to the religious city of Touba, in Senegal, to commemorate the departure into exile in Gabon of the founder of this Muslim brotherhood, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, in 1895. Traffic jams, increase in accidents… In 2022, 33 people died and 906 were injured during Magal week, according to the national fire brigade.

This year, on the occasion of the religious holiday, three trains that had been stopped since 2019 were put back into service for six days. "It's faster, easier and there is security... The train drops us off in the center of Touba while by road there are a lot of traffic jams, especially at the entrance to the city," rejoices Mohamed Diagne, 29, wearing a necklace bearing the image of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, alias "Serigne Touba". This resident of Thiès, about a hundred kilometers from Touba, says he is satisfied with his choice despite the four-hour delay on arrival.

With 240 seats per train and 32 rotations, around 10,000 travelers chose the train to go or return from the pilgrimage, according to Samba Ndiaye, general manager of the national company Grands trains du Sénégal (GTS). Even if the seats are still far from meeting the huge demand, the boss insists on the ban on selling standing places in order to avoid overloading.

The ticket costs 4,000 CFA francs (6.10 euros) in second class, 7,000 CFA francs in first class. Affordable prices, according to several travelers. “In a minibus or collective taxi, we pay between 4,000 and 6,000 CFA francs, it can even go up to 10,000 CFA francs. And you have to wait hours before finding a means of transport,” compares Ndèye Fatou Ndiaye, 60, who is traveling with her daughter and two sisters.

"Parking our trains would be a waste"

Wife of a railway worker, she is happy that the train is finally back after several years of absence. "Thiès was the rail capital, it was time for the train to whistle again", testifies the one who has already taken the historic lines that went to Mali via the border town of Kidira. "We suffered from the lack of the train, but we hope it continues," she continues.

GTS has renovated trains acquired in 2011 through a partnership with the Indian government via the India Exim Bank, but which had only been in use for a few years between 2012 and 2019. Wi-Fi, ventilated or air-conditioned wagon... "We mobilized three trains in good condition having been the subject of a technical audit which turned out to be positive", assures Samba Ndiaye. At the same time, the national railway company of Senegal (CFS) was responsible for the rehabilitation of rails and infrastructures in an overall logic of reviving interurban rail traffic, in particular on the line between Thiès and Tambacounda, in the east. from the country.

“The India Exim Bank, together with the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development, has decided to grant financing of 30 billion CFA francs [45.7 million euros] to the State of Senegal for the acquisition of new trains," says Samba Ndiaye, adding that a request has been made for the acquisition of trains that can reach Bamako and for the purchase of freight trains.

“My wish is that we continue to circulate once past the Magal, if only once or twice a week. Parking our trains would be a waste,” says the General Manager of GTS. And to mention the line that goes to Tivaouane, a religious town northeast of Dakar, where the brotherhood of the tidjanes celebrates the Gamou festival on September 26. "On the Tivaouane track, mining trains run every day, so rehabilitation does not require a lot of resources," says Samba Ndiaye, for whom the stakes are enormous: "The train is a means of development, of social equity and mass transportation. »