‘Da train fo Bo…’, with Helen Ashby and Steve Davies is the sixth and final talk in the Commonwealth Heritage Forum’s Series on ‘Railways across the Commonwealth’ (Autumn 2023).
Construction of the Sierra Leone Railway was begun in 1896 by the British Colonial Government. Running directly from West to East for some 227 ½ miles, between Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown and Pendembu in the east, close to the Liberian Border, this 2ft 6in gauge railway was the longest of that gauge in the world. A branch line to the north from Bauya, 64 miles east of Freetown, terminated in Makeni, bringing the route milage to over 300. The main traffic on the railway was passengers, palm kernels and minerals.
For a combination of political and economic reasons, Sierra Leone closed the railway in 1975, selling the locomotives, rolling stock and rails for scrap and abandoning the rest of the infrastructure.
Fast forward to 2004, at the end of eleven years of civil war, Colonel Steve Davies arrived on military service in Sierra Leone. A railway enthusiast all his life, his explorations of the route of the old railway led him to Cline Town, where he found an astonishing collection of locomotives and carriages that had escaped the gas axe. Thus the National Railway Museum came into being.
Now almost twenty years later, it is a thriving cultural hub, offering engaging displays, community activities and a vibrant education programme.
The Friends of the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum was founded in 2014 to provide advocacy and support for the museum. They invite you to join them to learn more about their incredible journey.
Helen was Head of Knowledge and Collections at the National Railway Museum and is now a freelance heritage consultant. She was awarded the OBE for services to railway heritage in 2010 and in 2014 she helped set up the Friends of Sierra Leone National Railway Museum, of which Steve is the Hon. President. Steve is the former Director of the National Railway Museum in York and he is now Director of a private company operating a main line steam locomotive. Their talk will explore the extraordinary origin story of the National Railway Museum in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
More information and photos for all topics can be found on our website