Cameroon June 2016 (The search for Bombardier MX620’s)
A trip to Africa had been long overdue since my last jaunt to Malawi & Mozambique in 2012. Both Senegal & Cameroon had been on the horizon for a while but with Senegal having a spate of not running trains in Dakar at all planning this trip was somewhat delayed, by about 3 years, and could well have scuppered the very reasons for heading into Cameroon as a result.
The Senegalese fleet of 5 YDM4’s and their 12 cylinder DLW built Alco were now back in full swing on the commuter services out of Dakar but things in Cameroon may have taken a wrong turn with the influx of Grindrod GM’s over the last few years. The CamRail MLW’s had previously worked the Yaoundé to N’gaoundéré overnight service solidly but nobody could confirm if they still did at the time of our trip planning so it could well be one of those “you’re a bit too late” trips; and with the odd sighting on the internet of GM’s working services our time in Cameroon could well be spent looking for something other than trains to do if the MLW’s had stopped working passenger services.
Booked through Brussels Airlines Direct (with return flights changed in Brussels Airlines office in Yaoundé)
SN2104 0650 Heathrow – Brussels
SN205 1100 Brussels – Dakar (Senegal)
SN352 2340 Douala (Cameroon) – Brussels
SN2093 0955 Brussels – Heathrow
SN372 2130 Douala (Cameroon) – Brussels
SN2093 0955 Brussels – Heathrow
KP53 0900 Dakar (Senegal) – Lomé (Togo)
KP34 1450 Lomé (Togo) – Douala (Cameroon)
Cameroon (Douala) – Hotel Beausejour Mirabel – about 3km from Douala Bessengué station and about a 15-minute journey from the airport by taxi, on empty roads. We chose it for its relative cheapness, decent reviews and locality to the station. First impressions of the reception implied that it was a bit rough round the edges and when we got to our rooms on the first floor, the rooms confirmed this. While rough around the edged the beds were comfy and the bedding clean, the AC was already on in the room for us, as was the TV. The rooms were sizeable and the AC effective but very noisy unfortunately.
Cameroon (Yaoundé) – Hotel La Falaise – is a 20-minute walk from Yaoundé station and has security checks at its entrance; our bags were searched. Our twin room on the 7th floor had everything you would expect for a “decent” hotel, with toiletries, tea/coffee making facilities and free bottled water. There was a fridge, decent flat screen TV and the AC worked a treat. The room was spacious and the bathroom was as spotless as it. We’d paid about £100 per night for it but the quality matched the price and breakfast was included in the rate.
All bought individually for the journeys made; no rover type tickets available in either country
Cameroon – CamRail
Thursday 9th June 2016 (Travelling from Senegal to Cameroon)
On departing Senegal, at Dakar airport, we were handed an immigration form to fill out with our boarding cards and having filled it out we were through immigration quickly and having breakfast airside; which we paid for in Euro’s and got change back in Euro’s! Our Asky flight to Lomé, Togo, should have departed at 0900 but there was no sign of it by then so we had a look online, using the free airport WiFi, and flight radar showed it en-route from Bissau, Guinea. It eventually arrived at 0935 and was berthed by 0945. Unfortunately, even though everyone was on board by just after 1000, we didn’t take off until 1039! Luckily we had a 2h20m connection in Lomé for our connecting flight to Douala, Cameroon.
The plane was empty and we were told to sit anywhere as we boarded. Our allocated seats were 10 B and C but the rows skipped from 4 to 11 between the two classes! Food was served on board and was included in the ticket price. Our plane was a brand new 737-800, which even had the plane registration (ET-ATU) on the safety instructions and despite the late departure was quite a pleasant flight to Lomé; where we would, in theory, have only just over an hour for our connecting flight to Douala. This didn’t turn out to be the case…
Our plane for Asky flight KP34 1450 Lomé – Douala was on the stand when we arrived into the departures area; having gone through a security check. By 1450 though it was no closer to boarding and ultimately we managed to pick some words out of the only announcement that was made; which basically said all flights were delayed due to bad weather. While it was gloriously sunny outside the airport windows we were soon to find out that bad weather was on its way. Initially it started to cloud over and then it began to get dark, when it started to rain it didn’t seem to be anything to be concerned about but at its height we could barely see the plane through the windows as it was that heavy and hard!
Planes were being held above the storm until it subsided and the lack of top notch workmanship soon began to tell, throughout the brand new terminal building, which was still in the process of being completed, as rain water began to leak in at various places; which of course kept the airport staff rather busy. With there being no other announcements we ultimately had to ask a member of staff how long the delay would be; who of course had no clue at all and could only tell us the delays were due to the weather!
While the delay wasn’t the be all and end all it did mean that our hotel pick-up in Douala would be a problem so I rang the hotel to tell them we’d be delayed; it was an interesting conversation as the guy at the other end spoke virtually no English but did understand what time I’d told him we expected to be into Douala; which went out of the window when we eventually boarded 90 minutes later so a further phone call had to be made as we boarded. Even this call turned out to be a waste of time as we sat on the stand for 40 minutes after boarding, waiting for stragglers who must have been coming off connecting flights that had been delayed coming into Lomé. Eventually we landed into Douala at 2015, 2h35m late; and if the delay wasn’t enough we were parked on the extremity of the runway for the plane to berth overnight and the bus to collect everyone wasn’t big enough so we had to wait another 10 minutes for it to do a second round trip to collect the stragglers.
Once in the airport we had to fill out a landing card and present it with our passport at the immigration desk, which by the time we got to it didn’t have much of a queue. Thankfully it took seconds to get through immigration and the moment I was through I rang the hotel again; thankfully their driver was at the airport waiting for us and after we’d appeared land-side we soon clapped eyes on a sign with my name on it. Just as we got to our guy his phone rang; it was the hotel telling him we’d arrived!
We needed to change some money and there were plenty of folk willing to do it but there didn’t seem to be any change booths at the airport. Our taxi driver told us we’d be able to do it at the hotel but when we were almost there his tune changed as we picked up a money changer en-route. Everything was very amicable though and there was no hassle. Once we’d checked in at the hotel we logged on to the WiFi to check the current exchange rates against the pound Sterling. The money changing guy was more than happy to wait while we did this and wasn’t forceful at all and while we found the bank exchange rate to be 839 XOF to the £1 we fully expected it to be less than 800 XOF to the £1 for the tourist rate. Initially we were offered 700 XOF but settled on 750 XOF and changed £200. The changer was even happy for us to validate the notes he’d given us against some other notes that people had in the foyer as we’d never seen the currency before and for all we knew they could have been fakes. All was well though and we handed over our money, the taxi driver then took the changer back to where he’d picked him up from.
The Hotel Beausejour Mirabel was about 3km from Douala Bessengué station and about a 15-minute journey from the airport by taxi, on empty roads. We chose it for its relative cheapness, decent reviews and locality to the station. First impressions of the reception implied that it was a bit rough round the edges and when we got to our rooms on the first floor, the rooms confirmed this. While rough around the edged the beds were comfy and the bedding clean, the AC was already on in the room for us, as was the TV. The rooms were sizeable and the AC effective but very noisy unfortunately. We used the hotel’s restaurant/bar to have a couple of beers before bedtime and settled down for the night around 2300; in quite tranquil surroundings, but for the noisy AC, which I eventually switched off!
Friday 10th June 2016 (Douala to Yaoundé with CamRail)
As breakfast was served until 10am we didn’t bother to get up until 0900! When I took my earplugs out the noise outside the window was quite loud, so I was thankful of them. The water in the hotel was piping hot and served us well. Unfortunately, we found out in the restaurant that breakfast wasn’t included in the room rate and 2500 XOF got us a croissant, a piece of bread, some jam and a cup of tea; not the best breakfast we’d ever had, after which we arranged with the same taxi driver from the previous night to be taken to the station at 1130 and retired to our rooms again.
We ended up with a different taxi driver taking us in the end, who initially wanted to charge us 5000 XOF, which is how much we paid from the airport which is twice as far; we eventually settled on 3000 XOF and were delivered to the rather imposing Gare Bessengué some 10 minutes later, after negotiating the one-way system round the city.
To get into the station building everyone has to have their bags checked, airport style, and then you’re free to roam around in the station building. It’s probably about 100m long from end to end and has a line of ticket windows immediately in front of the entrance; each is clearly marked with what tickets will be sold at each and there was only one person in front of us as we queued for 1st class tickets on the 1445 Intercity to Yaoundé Voyaguers. The prices for each class of ticket are well advertised at the ticket windows and the purchasing of our 1st class tickets took a couple of minutes, once we’d got to the window. We had to hand over our passports so our names could be written on the printed coach reservation sheet the woman had to work with. Tickets were then printed from a machine and our names and seat details hand written onto those as well; before we handed over 9000 XOF for each ticket.
There are a couple of café type eateries in the station building but attached to it is a proper restaurant, which you can only gain entry to by walking back out of the main station building. Food served is buffet style and you choose what you want and it’s brought to your table for you. On offer was battered fish, roast potatoes, rice, and pepper sauce, something wrapped in leaves and grilled plantain. Each meal cost a mere 1500 XOF each and the food was piping hot, was of a good sized portion and very filling. English wasn’t fluently spoken but we managed to point at what we wanted and a hand written bill was handed over afterward; so we had no issues with the ordering or paying.
As it is apparently illegal to photograph trains on CamRail property, according to others having made the trip to Cameroon, we didn’t bother trying to have a scout round outside the station area as there were a lot of security staff available and basically stood at the east end of the station to await the arrival of the inbound 1025 Yaoundé – Douala Intercity; which would at least be the stock to form our 1445, if not the loco as well.
Plinted inside the station building is a narrow gauge 0-6-0 tank steam loco built in 1878 in France. At the side of it are windows offering an ample view of incoming trains from the east and even some of the yard area adjacent to the station. We could see the roofs of trains arriving into the yard and the first loco we spotted was General Motors GT22CU-3 CC2505; which eventually shunted a coach from the station into the shed, which is between the station and freight yard. We didn’t manage to spot the inbound Intercity arriving as we noticed people were being allowed through the gates at the west end of the station; with the gates at the west end being for 1st and premier class ticket holders and the ones at the east, by where we’d been stood, being for 2nd class ticket holders.
Once through the gates everyone waits in an air conditioned lounge while the train arrives and is prepared for the return journey to Yaoundé. While waiting Bombardier MX620 CC2218 ran through the station towards the east end and we later spotted it on shed, which is a couple of kilometers out of Bessengué. While we’d not been expecting to find a Bombardier MX620 on the Douala – Yaoundé intercity services it still didn’t stop us being a little disappointed when Grindrod Pembani Remgro (GPR) GM, GPR 30-07, arrived from Yaoundé and ultimately ran round to work back with the 1445, late running intercity; as it only arrived at 1440.
The train was load 10 with the 2nd class at the front from Douala and the premier & 1st class towards the rear. Just as we were allowed down onto the platform a green Bombardier MX620, which was so scruffy we couldn’t confirm whether it was CC2226 or CC2228, or indeed neither of the aforementioned! Boarding seemed to be pretty efficient with the coach number on the ticket being the actual coach number itself. Seat numbers are clearly marked but unfortunately we ended up with one of the few pairs of seats in the coach that had no window by it at all. Despite the hour late arrival the train was turned round and departed 28 minutes after arrival at 1508, only 23’ late.
As we staggered out of town we spotted a few locos on the shed, which is on the left as trains depart Douala, namely NRE built GM GT26CU-3 CC3302, Bombardier MX620 CC2218 & GPR 30-01. En-route we noted Bombardier MX620’s CC2221/2204 (paired up) at Makendi and Bombardier MX620 CC2213, Alstom BB1111 and GPR 30-03/GPR30-04 (paired up) at Eskea; before finally overtaking and unidentified Alstom at Binguela with a passenger train, which we could only assume was actually vice DMU and working train 103 0900 Douala – Yaoundé Omnibus service; which was due into Douala at 1820 and ran on Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Friday’s. We had seen an Alstom DMU on the shed at Douala as well so maybe it wasn’t serviceable at the moment?
The journey is quite scenic throughout, if you have a window to look out of, appears very tropical and is definitely very lush and green. The line-speeds along the route are quite good, except for staggering in/out of Douala & Yaoundé, but the stock doesn’t give the impression that it is as it doesn’t ride very well; the air conditioning works well though and on board a free cake, packet of nuts and bottle of water are handed out to all in 1st class. There’s also a trolley service of hot drinks, sandwiches and confectionary on board and the 1st class was wedged solid with no spare seats at all!
Arrival into Yaoundé was at 1903, 33’ late. In the adjacent platform was a load 16 set of stock forming train 191 1910 Yaoundé – N’gaoundéré; with sleeper coaches to the rear, premier class in the middle and 2nd class at the front. There was clearly a connection off the 1830 intercity arrival from Douala to the 1910 departure to N’gaoundéré yet we still managed to watch two people miss the train as it pulled away a few minutes late; the station staff just weren’t interested in stopping it for them at all! Thankfully for us, we were very pleased to find Bombardier MX620 CC2203 getting the train away; as the MX620’s were the sole reason for us being in the country!
As the train departed we had to walk right back to the opposite end of the station to cross the tracks as GPR 30-07 had shunted an extra coach onto the end of the set and blocked our exit! GPR 30-07 was running round to work back to Douala with train 154 1920 Yaoundé – Douala Intercity as were forced our way through the busy station building and out into the station forecourt; where the waiting taxi drivers gathered! Luckily we managed to get ourselves accosted by an English speaking one, who was very sociable with it. As we didn’t have anything smaller than a 10,000 note he was more than happy to wait while we changed some money at the hotel front desk.
The Hotel La Falaise is only 1.5km from Yaoundé station but as it was dark we took a taxi instead. The girls at the front desk spoke good English and had us checked in straight away. As hotel prices in Yaoundé had seemed to be on the pricey side we ultimately booked a decent double room instead of two singles in a crappy hotel, with bad write-ups. The La Falaise had security checks at its entrance and our bags were searched. Our twin room on the 7th floor had everything you would expect for a “decent” hotel, with toiletries, tea/coffee making facilities and free bottled water. There was a fridge, decent flat screen TV and the AC worked a treat. The room was spacious and the bathroom was as spotless as it. We’d paid about £100 per night for it but the quality matched the price and breakfast was included in the rate.
We had a good meal in the hotel restaurant, which while a little pricey, was very good quality; while watching France v Romania in the first match of the Euro 2016 Championships; which France won 2-1. And I will hand it to them it was with a cracking goal! We spent the rest of the evening pondering our strategy for the following day and decided to head to the footbridge, just north of Yaoundé station, to photograph train 192 1915 (P) N’gaoundéré – Yaoundé arrive before making any decisions about what moves we’d be considering throughout the week.
Gen for Friday 10th June 2016
CC2218 shunting in Douala oil refinery
CC2226 or 2228 shunting in Douala Yard
CC2505 station pilot at Douala
CC3302 & GPR30-01 on shed at Douala
CC2221/CC2204 at Makendi light
CC2213 at Eskea light
CC1111 station pilot at Eskea
GPR30-03/GPR30-04 at Eskea light
BB11xx 181 0730 Douala – Yaoundé (overtaken at Binguela on IC153)
GPR30-07 IC152 1025 Yaoundé – Douala (45’ late), IC153 1445 Douala – Yaoundé (28’ late), IC154 1920 Yaoundé – Douala
CC2203 191 1910 Yaoundé – N’gaoundéré
Photos for Friday 10th June 2016
Saturday 11th June 2016 (A day in Yaoundé)
Up at 0800 for breakfast, we were grateful of the lay-in. While there did seem to be plenty of choice, all of the hot stuff was more like stuff that would be eaten for dinner; definitely not at breakfast! Still, there was plenty of cold stuff for us to munch on before heading off out to the station to attempt photograph both the N’gaoundéré – Yaoundé overnight and the Douala – Yaoundé Intercity arrive.
As Yaoundé is a bit like Sheffield and has hills in every direction, it was an interesting walk from the Hotel Falaise to Yaoundé station. As the crow flies it’s only about 1 kilometer but the walk is about 2 kilometers; with ME Maps at hand though there was no problem negotiating the busy morning streets, the sights of which were pretty much like those in Senegal but the tat selling seemed to be more organized and categorized as well. The rank smells wafting by every now and again certainly added to the fact that while the streets looked a bit more organized they were still treated like a toilet and there was rubbish everywhere there were sellers. Yet the non-descript streets with nobody lining them were quite clean and generally only had a few people milling about them.
As we needed an injection of cash to buy our train tickets we had no problem finding a bank with an enclosed cash machine, which dispensed up to 250,000 XOF at a time. On our way from there towards the station we passed by a load of bars, that already had people sat outside them with their “first of the day” and despite us having walked through what appeared to be the electronics district, there hadn’t been that much of a hard sell coming our way and we’d had no hassle or attention from the locals at all.
It was 0935 when we approached Yaoundé station area and we were surprised to find a set of stock already in the station and naturally assumed it to be that off IC151 0600 Douala – Yaoundé; which must have had a good run to take only 3h30m to do the run across from Douala. It was also a longer rake than the one we’d had the previous afternoon and we should have realised at that point that it could only have been the rake that had arrived off 192 1915 (P) N’gaoundéré – Yaoundé; but I think the fact that the loco attached to the Yaoundé end of the stock had us believing otherwise for more than one reason! It was GM GT22CU-3 CC2506 and we assumed it would eventually run round and work back to Douala with IC152 1025 Yaoundé – Douala; it never, or seemingly didn’t want to cross our minds, that it could be the N’gaoundéré stock, after the loco had run round!
There’s a footbridge at the N’gaoundéré end of the station, which offers great views across the station and also in the other direction of arriving trains from N’gaoundéré; we perch ourselves on this for the next hour or so and waited for the overnight from N’gaoundéré to arrive. When we were approached by a police officer, who had been directing traffic towards the station, we thought that was the end of our attempts to photograph. However, when we told him we were waiting for the N’gaoundéré train to arrive he told us it already had but the Douala train was late; we assumed he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about as CC2506 shunted its stock out of the station towards the yard area north of the station. We actually though it was going to propel its stock round the turning circle and draw back in to form the 1025 to Douala but when it didn’t we just thought that the inbound N’gaoundéré was running a tad late and there was no rush to get the Douala stock back in as CamRail were holding it for connections!
We couldn’t have been more wrong about our friendly police officer and despite wanting money from us, which he didn’t get, he even stopped the traffic on the footbridge to allow us to cross and photograph GM GT26CU-3 CC3301, when it arrived into the loop with a freight from the Douala direction. Everything soon sank in when Grindrod GPR 30-07 arrived into the station about 20 minutes later, at 1100, with the 1h20m late running IC151 0600 Douala – Yaoundé. A quick photo later and we were heading to the station, now a little concerned that GM CC2506 appeared to be in the mix on the N’gaoundéré circuit!
Getting into the station building at Yaoundé involved having our bags checked, just like in Douala and buying tickets at Yaoundé station isn’t as straightforward as it seemed at Douala but there are a load of ticket windows inside the station building clearly marked with what tickets are available from each. To the left of the ticket windows is an information office, which has a sign on the door advertising the fact that it sells tickets for N’gaoundéré and was the place to get tickets in sleeper coaches. As it opened at 1100 we basically walked straight in and were almost at the front of the queue from the off! The whole ticket buying experience probably looked a bit more chaotic than it was due to the fact that the station was full of people waiting to board the late running IC152 1025 Yaoundé – Douala.
Luckily for us the girl who initially served us spoke fluent English and we approached the ticket buying by asking when there were tickets available to N’gaoundéré, that would allow us to return straight away; the same night we’d arrived. We had no intention of attempting to head north that night with the GM being in town so started with Sunday night. Bizarrely there were two berths left on the train, the catch being they were in separate 4 berth cabins, in different coaches. The good news though, was that there was a two berth cabin available on Monday night heading back to Yaoundé so we went ahead to book what had been offered.
The girl took our passports and entered our details onto a computer. What she’d actually done was reserve our berths for the Monday night southbound journey and then old us we had to pay for the tickets in N’gaoundéré. As the IC was about to start boarding for Douala she had to rush off and told us her colleague would sort out our ticket for the following night; and off she went. Her colleague thankfully spoke English and did indeed sort out our tickets for the following night but only the reservation of them. Once we’d been handed the reservations we were then directed up the stairs, opposite the information bureau, to pay for them. I did ask for the reservation details for our Monday night journey before leaving and was handed a piece of paper with the coach number on and told to hand it to the staff at the booking office in N’gaoundéré.
There were already quite a lot of people upstairs but there was nothing going on at either counter initially. Soon enough though some staff turned up, one of which advised people which of the two counters to queue at, depending what tickets you’re paying for; the left hand one is for sleeper tickets and the right hand one for premier class tickets; which must mean that all other classes of tickets on the train must be available at the ticket windows downstairs. As we couldn’t understand the French directions we ultimately ended up at the back of our queue but it only took 5 minutes to get to the front; where the woman behind the counter uses the reservation receipt to write the details onto pre-printed tickets to your destination. Money is handed over, change is given and the transaction is then over! Simples…….
The whole ticket buying experience, from entering the station to departing with our tickets, took about 40 minutes. During which time GPR30-07 had run round and departed at 1125, 60’ late, with IC152 1025 Yaoundé – Douala. With the rest of the day ahead of us we decided to head across town and visit some of the sights; that idea was soon stopped in its tracks!
We stopped off at Patisserie Select en-route to the National Museum, which has possibly the best array of things a bakery could serve, that I’ve ever seen! Everything looked fresh, from sarnies to pastries and cakes to ice cream, and there’s an area to eat inside the place; which came in rather handy when the heavens opened outside and it absolutely pounded it down. When it stopped there was a wave of water flowing down the street and the big roundabout at the bottom was becoming more like a lake with every minute; so not only did we had to dodge the cars trying to traverse it, we also had to avoid getting wet. Then the heavens opened again, and instantly became very heavy.
Our only solution was to dash and shelter beneath a thin bit of concrete hoarding that was sticking out over a pathway; which we shared with two other guys and two young kids, for the next 20 minutes! Loads of taxis had pulled up and pipped as we stood, semi-dry, in our less than ideal shelter, but we let them all go; mainly as most had people in them already. Just as we were about to give up on the day the rain eased up and then stopped completely so we walked the 400m we had left to the front gates of the National Museum. When the guy at them wanted 10,000 XOF for us to enter we were soon heading back to the hotel where an afternoon of relaxing in air-conditioned luxury, while watching football, followed. Albania v Switzerland saw the Swiss come out on top with a 1-0 win.
Our intentions were to walk back to the station and view the 1910 Yaoundé – N’gaoundéré depart but when the skies turned black again at about 1700 it had to be a brisk walk instead and we found the stock just being boarded with GM CC2506 already attached ready to take the train north. Having achieved what we needed to we opted for a taxi back to the hotel, rather than risk getting another soaking, which cost 2000 XOF from the top of the road, not the station area. We were back in time to watch the second match of the afternoon and Wales v Slovakia ended with Wales winning 2-1; so the pressure was on England later that night with Wales winning; and when that had finished we had enough time between that and the England v Russia match, that would kick off at 2000, to get ourselves something to eat in the restaurant; the steak with pepper sauce the previous night had gone down well so I settled for another before the disappointment that was the England football team managing to concede a goal 2 minutes into injury time to then draw with Russia!
Discussions during the day had us setting our alarm clocks for 0630 so we could head to the station and view the 0730 Yaoundé – Douala Express; as we hadn’t actually seen it arrive into Douala the previous day and the only engine we had seen run through the station at any point had been Bombardier MX620 CC2218. It was definitely clutching at straws but nonetheless, you just never know with these things……
Gen for Saturday 11th June 2016
CC2506 192 1915 (P) N’gaoundéré – Yaoundé, 191 1910 Yaoundé – N’gaoundéré
GPR30-07 IC151 0600 Douala – Yaoundé (80’ late), IC152 1025 Yaoundé – Douala (60’ late)
CC3301 container freight at Yaoundé towards N’gaoundéré at 1045
Photos for Saturday 11th June 2016
Sunday 12th June 2016 (Day 2 in Yaoundé before heading to N’gaoundéré)
With no time for breakfast we were heading to the station at 0645 and found the streets a lot calmer than they had been the previous morning; probably because it was a Sunday? The 20-minute walk turned out to be a waste of time when we found Alstom centre-cab BB1103 sat waiting to depart with the 0730 Yaoundé – Douala Express; although we did at least get a photo of it from the cover of the trees at the Douala end of the station area, just outside the car park entrance. Then from out of nowhere came some guy with some sort of official ID and challenged us about the photos we’d just taken. He was definitely in some sort of force but we couldn’t tell which from his ID. Once he’d told us we couldn’t take photographs, as the station was a strategic location, he surprisingly left us to walk back to the hotel unscathed; with all our photos still preserved.
After a much needed shower, a much needed breakfast followed before we were station bound again to photograph what we hoped would be Bombardier MX620 CC2203 arriving from N’gaoundéré with the inbound overnight. Having been stood on the same bridge we’d frequented the previous day, for about 30 minutes, we noticed an armed police officer paying a bit of attention to us from the other side of the bridge, as he walked over it. Sure enough, he was soon walking back across it, now on our side, and directly towards us. Obviously we stood out like a sore thumb but when we were asked what we were doing the officer couldn’t seem to get his head round the fact we were just passing time, waiting for trains to arrive; he then told us it was not allowed for people to stand on this particular footbridge and that we had to move! Of course it’s well signed all over it that this is the case; not! We were allowed to stand at one side or the other but after we’d tried both, and figured out our view was massively obscured we decided that we were heading to the station and were going to ask for permission to photograph there.
We walked into the information office, where we’d got our reservations from the previous morning, and spoke to the same girl that had issued them. We asked for the Chef De Gare and she was soon on the phone, only to come off it and tell us that he wasn’t available as it was a Sunday and he wasn’t at the station. When we explained what we wanted she led us onto the platform and pointed out a woman who she said we should speak to. This woman turned out to be called Madame Nellie Desiree and couldn’t have been more helpful. She understood that we wanted to take photographs on the station and was happy for us to do so, just not so many though. She then told us that the inbound trains from both N’gaoundéré and Douala wouldn’t arrive until around 1100 and that we should return to the platform nearer the time; so we spent 30 minutes or so festering in the station waiting hall with a cold pop.
After 30 minutes on the platform staff started to spread themselves out a bit and some passengers had managed to creep onto the platform. We were then told that the train was arriving from Douala and asked to stand out of the way; we negotiated a better place to stand to get our photos than they’d tried to put us in, behind everyone else! It was no surprise when Grindrod’s GPR30-07 arrived with IC151 0600 Douala – Yaoundé at 1055, 75’ late. The station became a hive of activity for about 40 minutes as people alighted, the train was cleaned, the luggage was loaded and the loco was run round; and while people were boarding Madame Desiree allowed us off the end of the platform to get some photos of GPR30-07 before it departed with IC152 1025 Yaoundé – Douala 64’ late at 1129, more or less the same time it had done the previous day.
It was then a waiting game for the arriving train from N’gaoundéré and the station platforms went into hibernation mode for over an hour. Madame Desiree told us that the train was now expected to arrive at around 1200 and when staff with hi-visibility vests started to mill about on the platform, well after 1200, we got the impression something was about to happen. We had a false start when a Bombardier MX620 appeared from round the corner, with nothing in tow, and then sat just outside the station at the north end; we later discovered this to be CC2205. 20 minutes later train 192 1915 (P) N’gaoundéré – Yaoundé appeared round the corner and something didn’t appear quite right. As the train got closer we figured out that there were actually three engines, all appearing to be MX620’s, on the train and could only assume that the train engine had failed and been rescued by the leading two locos.
As the train hit the platform end, 3h45m late at 1245, the shunter walked straight into our lined up photograph and ran down the platform to get on the leading MX620 as it arrived. CC2223/CC2230 were multi’d up and both working but despite CC2203 still running on the inside of the trio, it obviously wasn’t in the best of health! We managed to get a shift on and get to the front of the train, before the locos shunted off the two baggage vans at the front, and get a few photos from the embankment in front of the road bridge at the Douala end of the station. The driver on CC2223 gestured to us as we walked back to be wary of some of the guys hanging around by the parcel office; so we headed back to the platform, got a couple more photos, thanked Madame Desiree for her help and then kicked ourselves all the way back to the hotel when I figured out that we could probably have got a taxi out to Obala, the first station north of Yaoundé that the train stopped at, and done the damn thing into Yaoundé! ME Maps soon confirmed, back at the hotel, that it was a 38km drive that would have taken just over half an hour!!!! I guess had we known it had failed, which we didn’t, we may well have put two and two together and figured it out; but as we were expecting CC2203 to come in and then hopefully work back that night, we didn’t feel the need to even consider the move. The only saving grace for our trip that night, was that there were now 4 MX620’s in Yaoundé to choose from!
Another afternoon of air-conditioning and Euro 2016 football followed before the power went off in the hotel for the second time that day; literally minutes before the match finished! Turkey v Croatia was 1-0 to the Croats with seconds to go and we found out that’s how it finished while watching the highlights in N’gaoundéré the following day! The power cut was our cue to head down to the restaurant for a meal before our overnight trip. When we went back up to get our stuff and head out the power was back on in the room again. When we went back down to remind the hotel staff we wouldn’t be back until Tuesday morning again, when we were asked if we actually wanted to check out, save some money and make a future booking for Tuesday. Quite surprised that we’d been offered what we had, we paid up, got our bags from the room, left them at the hotel’s front desk and bode them farewell for a couple of days!
It started to look a bit grim as we headed to the station and we weren’t surprised that the stock wasn’t in when we got there at 1800; after its very late arrival that morning. Our nerves were starting to get the better of us while we waited for the stock to come in and we’d never been so relieved when MX620 CC2205, as we’d half expected/hoped, brought the stock in and was immediately detached to run round it. Meanwhile boarding commenced, just as the heavens opened and a heavy downpour soaked all those attempting to board.
After our tickets were checked at the door we were told which cabin to go to and were pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness of both it and the bedding on the berths; which included pillows, a sheet and a blanket; and later a toilet roll and soap were given out to each compartment to use communally. When a family of two adults and two children got into my compartment there was no chance of a swap to get Vic into mine; and then the farce began.
A guy we’d been speaking to in the queue the previous day had managed to get himself 8 tickets for the train via one of CamRail’s agents, basically as we’d managed to get the last two tickets in the sleeper berths. Vic’s ticket had the same coach and cabin as he had all 4 berths in. As it turned out not only had our tickets been stamped for the wrong date, which had been the previous days, Vic’s had the wrong coach written on it. The saving grace turned out to be my reservation receipt as it had both a reservation date and travel date on it and Vic’s only had the reservation date; which everyone was thinking had been the same as the travel date. A quick phone call by one of the station staff soon had things rectified and Vic was shown to his correct coach and cabin. Unfortunately, there was no swap to be done there either and that was the last I saw of him until the following morning.
When the rain had stopped I walked up to the front of our 17 coach train just to make sure CC2205 had ran round; and it was firmly bolted to the stock. Back in my cabin everyone was eating so I left them alone for a bit and had a bellow out of the window in the corridor as the train departed. Even from 10 plus coaches back the MX620 could be heard as it hammered out of town and past the carriage shed to the north of the station. Grindrod’s GPR30-01 was sat on a freight in the yard, facing north, and that was about the length of my bellowing; until the morning.
While everyone was relaxing in their berths the coach stewardess came round asking if anyone wanted anything from the restaurant car and shortly afterwards the ticket checks were done; with the guard having two police officers with him to check everyone’s ID. Once this was over the compartment lights were out and I spent the evening shutting the world out with my Ipod; before eventually calling it a night at about 2300. Unfortunately, the compartment couldn’t make its mind up if it was going to be cool or warm but the bed was comfy enough to hope that wouldn’t be an issue as we staggered into the darkness.
Gen for Sunday 12th June 2016
BB1103 182 0730 Yaoundé – Douala (formed with DMU stock)
GPR30-07 IC151 0600 Douala – Yaoundé (75’ late), IC152 1025 Yaoundé – Douala (64’ late)
CC2223/CC2230+CC2203 192 1915 (P) N’gaoundéré – Yaoundé into Yaoundé 3h45m late (suspect CC2203 failed en-route and was rescued by the pair)
Photos for Sunday 12th June 2016