Destinations Western Africa

The Iron Ore Train in Mauritania, Longest Train in the World

iron ore train
Written by Teresa Mwangi

The iron ore train in Mauritania is an engineering marvel in Africa. Mauritanian Railway holds a record for hosting the world’s heaviest trains stretching through unimaginable terrain. This locomotive has rightfully been dubbed “The Snake of the Desert.”  Mauritania is fairly a desert country, two-thirds of the country being an arid area.

What is the Iron Ore Train?

Mauritania’s iron ore train is the longest train in the world used to tons of iron ore in chunks or powder across the Sahara Desert. The train rightfully earns its moniker as a ‘desert snake’ because it is long enough with hundreds of wagons.  It begins its journey at Zouerat Mines, a Mauritanian town in the middle of the Sahara, and ends at Nouadhibou.  Nouadhibou is the second-biggest city in Mauritania located on the country’s northwest coast, more than 700 kilometres from Zouerat. The ore train cruises for 22 from the mines to the city.

How Long is the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania?

These trains measure up to 3km long with at least 236 wagons being pulled by diesel-powered engines and electric motors. They haul thousands of tons of iron ore for 22 hours traversing the vast and harsh Sahara Desert landscape. Along with iron, the train occasionally carries residents trying to sell their goods, generally fish caught in Zouerat.

iron ore train

The Iron Ore Train. Photo/CNN

A regular passenger’s carriage costs about 15 euros, but most locals just choose to hitchhike the train. Several travellers also enjoy hitchhiking rides just like the locals do. While it is treacherous, they throw all caution to the wind.

How Heavy are Iron Ore Trains?

Iron ore trains, particularly those in Mauritania, are heavyweight champions of the railway world. They haul massive amounts of ore, making them some of the longest and heaviest trains you will ever find. These Mauritanian giant locomotives carry thousands of tons of iron ore, with each train hauling a weight of several thousand tons.

While the exact weight changes depending on the train’s length and number of wagons, they fall in the range of a few thousand tons. The movement of iron ore from mines to ports for export depends on these amazing technical achievements. They support international industries, but they don’t have an easy ride.

Does Iron Ore Train in Mauritania Ferry Passengers?

The iron ore train of Mauritania go across the arid Sahara Desert, adding more grandeur to their enormous loads. However, they are not designed to carry passengers but they ferry a few passengers from time to time. These trains are built for hauling massive amounts of iron ore, not for passenger comfort or safety. There are no passenger seats, restrooms, or amenities.

iron ore train in mauritania

Iron ore train in Mauritania. Photo/Dispatches from Periphery

Locals sometimes climb on top of the ore cars for a free, albeit adventurous, way to travel. Although taking this ride on purpose can be a cool experience, it’s important to remember that it is not enjoyable. Some tourists board the train headed towards Nouadhibou to ensure the wagons are full so they can stand on the iron and “enjoy” the journey rather than being stuck down the empty wagons.

This famous Mauritanian train has a single passenger carriage attached offering a more comfortable ride with seats. However, the carriage has limited space and cannot carry as many passengers as people would want although tickets for this carriage are very cheap.

How Fast do Iron Ore Trains go?

The iron ore trains in Mauritania prioritize hauling massive cargo over speed. They use moderate speeds due to their immense weight and length. These trains travel at relatively moderate speeds compared to passenger trains around 60 kilometres per hour (37 mph). This speed guarantees safety by maintaining the stability of the train when loaded.

Further, it travels at around 70 kilometres per hour (44 mph) when empty since it is empty and more stable at this speed. High speeds are a rail hazard, especially in a region where the railway line passes through a desert.


The iron ore train isn’t comfortable for passengers. As a matter of fact, you have to put up with hazardous dust from the mined iron ore. For those who have travelled on this cargo train, they have a tall tale of how they relieved their bowels throughout the 22-hour journey. On the positive side of it, this train plays a huge role in sustaining the economy of Mauritania.

About the author

Teresa Mwangi

Teresa is a journalist with years of experience in creating web content. She is a wanderlust at heart, loves travelling and telling stories about tour and travel in Africa by every angle.

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