This 1.8-Mile Train Travels on One of the Most Extreme Railways in the World

Deep within the Sahara Desert are vast supplies of iron ore, which is extracted and dumped into a train 1.8 miles in length. The train then embarks on a 437-mile journey to the Mauritanian coast, a trek captured in spectacular fashion on film recently by National Geographic.

The railway in question is the the Mauritania Railway, which has been transporting iron ore—in addition to humans—across the Sahara since 1963. It’s captured here in dazzling, often meditative detail.

Look at that train! It carries enough iron to rebuild the Eiffel Tower, though I don’t imagine anyone is actually planning to do that. In real terms, that’s over 22,000 tons of iron ore per trip, with free rides for any humans along the route, which can take up to a day to complete.


The film was directed by the mononymously-named director Macgregor, as part of a series of short films spotlighted by Nat Geo. More giant trains, please.

Mack Hogan is Jalopnik's Weekend Editor, but you may know him from his role as CNBC's car critic or his brave (and maligned) takes on Twitter. Most people agree that you shouldn't listen to him.

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I did the Peace Corps in West Africa, and hopped this train for a free ride to the coast on an extended trip with my girlfriend when we finished our service. It’s totally nuts.

First we took a 4 hour ride with about 10 other people in a Hilux through mostly road-less dessert to Choum, basically a smear of shacks selling tea and biscuits and showing European futbol for 30 cents a game to people waiting to hop the train. We arrived at 1:00 pm and thought we only had to kill 4 hours until the train showed up. It inexplicably turned out to be 12. We didn’t speak any of the local Arabic dialect, but found one guy with basic French who shared some of his dinner and pointed out where along the track to wait - the train only stops for about 4 minutes, so wherever along the almost 2 mile train you are is pretty much where you get on.

At about 1:30 am it pulled in. Everyone ran and scrambled for the passenger caboose. We jumped on a flatbad towards the back with a couple thousand twisted nails hammered into its surface, and hunkered down for the night under a cheap market blanket. A few hours later, we woke up to what I swore was a screaming velociraptor, but turned out to be a dozen men loading a couple of bound and very angry camels onto a car in front of us.

By morning we were both very sandy and painfully holding our bladders. Because the train cars were hitched together kind of loosely, they adjusted and caught up or pulled away from their neighbors periodically. This resulted in a 2 foot violent lurch passing up and down the length of the train, happening unpredictably every 2-10 minutes. If I tried to piss off the side of the flatbed, I was worried I would get kicked off into an expanse of sand and die of exposure (or wander into the worlds longest mine field). We ended up making a piss puddle on the surface of the flatbed 15 feet back from us.

From hopping on to reaching the coast took about 15 hours. We did have some neighbors on the car ahead of us that managed to start a small fire on the bed and brew us some of the tea and sugar we gifted them, which earned us some help negotiating a taxi and the end of the line. Mostly it was pretty boring but also a hell of a ride.