Sierra Leone Government Railway

Construction commenced from Water Street, Freetown in 1896 of the Sierra Leone Government Railway (SLR) with the first section of railway to Wellington, seven miles away opening in March 1897. Later line openings included Waterloo in April 1898; Songo in 1899; Rotifunk in 1900; Bo in 1903 and Baiima in 1905. In 1907 the final destination of Pendembu was reached at 227 from Water Street and there the main line ended. A branch was built between 1914 and 1916 from Bauya Junction to Makeni and Kamabai with a length of 104 miles bring the total route mileage to 331 miles. A further line of 5 ½ miles was built in 1903 known as the Mountain Railway, connected by rail from the docks and Water Street station, this climbed from a station at Cotton tree, Freetown to Hill Station, at 748 feet above sea level. This line allowed people to live in the more rarefied air above Freetown, however the line wass closed in 1929 as surveys in the late 1920s had already shown it to be losing money against road competition.

The railways assumed increased importance during the Second World War moving food and resources from inland to the coast and supporting fighting in North Africa with fighter aircraft transported in kit form to Pendembu where they were assembled and flown to Egypt. In the 1950s the equipment of the railway was renewed with the introduction of diesel locomotives and new freight wagons.

Increased road traffic and changes in government policy in the 1960s saw a decline in railway traffic, so the railway diversified by opening a new branch to serve a bauxite mine and converting to a wider gauge to fit in with much of the rest of Africa. In 1968 the Makeni branch closed followed by the section between Kenema and Pendembu in 1971 and the line cut back to Bo in 1973. The last official passenger train ran on the line on 17th November 1974. Trains continued to run on a sporadic basis into mid-1975 but the lifting of the track and its sale to a Lebanese scrap merchant in August 1975 put an end to this.