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The Gold Coast

A Railway Through the African Jungle


Sekondi, a native seaside village, was chosen as the starting-point of the Gold Coast railway

ON THE GULF OF GUINEA. Sekondi, a native seaside village, was chosen as the starting-point of the railway into the interior. The first section, from Sekondi to the gold-mining settlement of Tarkwa, was opened in 1901.

FEW railways in the world have played an important a part in the progress of twentieth century civilization as the Gold Coast Government Railway. A combination of engineering skill, railway organization, and wise administration by enlightened officials has made the railway a steel channel through forest and jungle, with the result that more progress has been achieved in two decades than was ever thought possible.

The railway is comparatively new, and every year it is being steadily improved. The engineers have to contend with the invisible germs of tropical diseases as well as with the visible difficulties of flood and jungle. Although this section of tropical Africa is no longer spoken of as “The White Man’s Grave”, and is being steadily improved, it still takes its toll of life.

The term “Gold Coast” covers three areas - the Gold Coast Colony, Ashanti, and the Northern Territories. The total area is 91,690 square miles, about 3,000 square miles more than that of Great Britain.

The total railway mileage is about 500 and the gauge is 3 ft 6-in, except for the ten miles of the Accra-Weshiang Light Railway, which is on the 2 ft 6-in gauge. The first section, from Sekondi on the coast to Tarkwa, a gold-mining centre, was opened in 1901. The line was extended to Kumasi, the capital of Ashanti, in 1903. In 1923 the route from Kumasi to Accra, the seat of government, was completed - the total mileage then being 362. The Central Province section from Tarkwa to Kadde was completed in 1927, and in 1928 Takoradi Harbour, four miles southwest of Sekondi, was opened, enabling large vessels to berth and ship the manganese, cocoa, and timber brought by railway from the interior of the Gold Coast Colony.

The surprising thing is that whereas in the beginning of the century the natives were, comparatively speaking in the Stone Age, they now form a large proportion of the operating staff of the railway. The sons of men who, a few years ago, were fighting the British forces in one of Britain’s “little wars”, are now locomotive drivers or firemen, fitters, crane-men, and so on, at a wage of approximately half a crown a day.

It is interesting to read the Administration Report on engine failures and to note the careful way in which details are handled. An engine had hot big ends and a fitter was cautioned for bad work; when a boiler leaked the driver was fined ten shillings for not plugging the tube; an engine was short of steam, and the driver had to pay a ten-shillings fine. The only instance of dismissal was that of a driver who struck one of the cock handles on a combination casting with a hammer, breaking the casting. What exactly caused the driver to take a hammer to the engine and whether the motive was haste or bad temper are not disclosed.

The discovery of gold at Tarkwa, some forty miles from the coast, led to the construction of the first section of railway from Sekondi, which was then a cluster of mud huts along the shore. In August, 1898, the engineers began to cut their way through the forest. In spite of a scarcity of labour, a trying climate, and the Ashanti War, the forty miles to Tarkwa were completed in May, 1901. The pacification of the country enabled construction to go forward more rapidly on the northern extension, Obuasi being reached in seventeen months, while the last section of forty-four miles into Kumasi was finished in seven months, an average advance of 6·3 miles per month. On the Tarkwa-Obuasi section progress reached twelve miles a month. So severe, however, was the toll of sickness that no fewer than ten chief engineers were appointed in turn, and the changes in the staff were continuous.

In the ‘nineties prospectors hunting for gold penetrated the forest belt and panned the up-country streams. This thick belt of jungle, about 150 miles wide, presented a barrier through which advance could be made only by hacking and cutting, as the few paths were narrow and tortuous tracks trodden down by the feet of the natives. The prospectors persevered and at last struck the main reef at Tarkwa. The gold was there, but the puzzle was how to get the heavy and cumbersome machinery to the claims, and how to get the gold obtained by the machinery to the coast.

Because of the lack of harbours, vessels had to anchor off the coast and discharge cargo into boats which ran the gauntlet of the heavy surf and dodged the sand-bars which littered the waterway leading into the interior.

The Superhuman Task

The boats took the material up the river to a point as near the mines as possible and unloaded. The material was then carried over the tracks through the jungle to the mines, but by the time the material reached its destination it had cost £40 a ton to transport. This cost rendered the working of the mines unprofitable, and it was decided to build a railway.

The first step was to scour the unprepossessing coast to find the site for the terminal port, and the native village of Sekondi was selected. It was not a harbour, only a small, open bay, and not until the harbour of Takoradi was constructed a few years ago were the difficulties of landing and loading surmounted. The construction of makeshift harbour works at Sekondi was restricted by the difficulties of the site and by the limited financial resources of the Colony; but at last they were completed, and the engineers then turned to the construction of the forty miles of railway to Tarkwa.

Although the distance was short, the dense jungle, the deadly climate, the heavy rainfall, and the comparative absence of suitable material with which to carry out the construction of the earthworks combined to make the length of forty miles a tremendous obstacle.

The surveyors had a superhuman task. The forest was so dense and overgrown with brushwood that it was seldom that a clear view of a hundred feet ahead could be obtained. The surveyor-explorers found the country to be gently undulating. Most of the depressions were swamps or contained stagnant, fetid pools concealed from sight by the overgrowing scrub, so that the surveyor frequently found himself immersed to the thighs or waist, and any disturbance of the pools aroused swarms of mosquitoes to attack and plague the invader.

RANSPORTING COCOA from the factory at Akuse to barges on the Volta River

TRANSPORTING COCOA from the factory at Akuse to barges on the Volta River. Cocoa, first planted in the Colony in 1879, has become one of the most important products of the Gold Coast.

In such a country a surveyor needs to be gifted with a cast-iron constitution and an eye for a railway - the instinct, cultivated by experience - to obtain the best route in the shortest time and at the lowest cost. When the view is shut in on all sides by tropical vegetation, it is a matter of chance if the line already plotted is as good as one which might be found to one side or the other. Any one of six different routes is likely to possess superior features here and there. The engineer’s skill lies in the selection of the route which offers the greatest number of advantages with the fewest number of defects. However well the engineer may decide at the time, he is certain at a later date, when his knowledge of the country has improved, to see where he could have done better.

Owing to the amazing fertility of the soil the surveyor had to contend with a difficulty that is not found in temperate regions. In tropical countries the route decided upon is indicated by a row of pegs, spaced a hundred feet apart, down the middle of the survey cleavage through the scrub, the pegs indicating the centre of the track. At intervals they are supplemented on one side or the other by another stake, known as a “bench mark”, on which is marked the altitude.

When the surveyor set out the pegs in the Gold Coast jungle, the stakes, being cut from green wood, began to sprout as soon as he had moved on. Thus, within a very short time, the jungle growth closed over the survey line, obliterating it. Consequently the construction parties had to spend a long time searching for the location pegs. As soon as it was realized that a stick planted by the surveyor might grow into a small tree by the time the railway builder arrived, other methods were adopted. Whenever a bench or location mark of importance had to be indicated, the surveyor used something which could not grow. This was usually a small block of concrete, but these had to be used very sparingly, as each one had to be carried through the jungle on the head of a native.

Native Labour Preferred

When the track was being constructed an unusually wide space had to be cleared on either side, to protect the track and the telegraph wires from the effects of windfalls. Some of the trees grew to a height of 140 ft and more, and were easily brought down by a high wind, often falling across the track. Because of the dampness of the climate some of the trees were soft and hollow and brittle, but others were solid. A tough tree in the middle of the track would take two or three days to clear away. Natives, with their primitive tools, were nearly always employed on such tasks, as it was found that their methods were cheaper than employing white men with more costly appliances. These large trees averaged about twenty to the acre, and about forty acres per mile had to be cleared of all vegetation, so that this task in itself was a big one.

Even then the felling of the trees and the cutting of the undergrowth was only part of the work; for the vegetation, being useless for constructional purposes, had to be destroyed. The large trees were split, chopped into pieces, piled and fired, but as the wood was green the work took time.

Then the stumps had to be removed. As there was a thick upper layer of decaying vegetable matter the roots did not go deeply into the soil, but radiated in all directions along the surface. The method usually employed was to dig round the stump, sever the roots, and then haul the mass to one side by the aid of rope and tackle, to be burned later. Though this took time, it was preferable to blasting the stumps, as native labour could be used, whereas blasting would have required the services of skilled white men.

A general view of Kumasi, the northernmost point of the railway, showing the railway sidings

THE CAPITAL OF ASHANTI. A general view of Kumasi, the northernmost point of the railway, showing the railway sidings. Kumasi, former home of the Golden Stool, an object of local veneration, was linked by rail to Sekondi in 1903, after the Ashanti War.

Despite the width of the swathe through the forest, falling trees often obstructed the railway in its early years, the number of interruptions being as high as 200 in a year. About twice a year it was necessary to send out gangs to cut back the undergrowth, which, if left unchecked, would have overwhelmed the track.

Although gradients as steep as 1 in 50 and curves of 330 ft radius were introduced, it was not possible to avoid heavy earthworks in places. Rails weighing 50 lb per yard were laid upon pressed steel sleepers, since wooden sleepers would have been liable to attack and destruction by insects - the plague of tropical countries. For the same reason timber trestle bridges were out of the question.

A feature of the construction was the lack of steam shovels and other “heavy artillery” of railway building. Because of the nature of the climate and the country it was found quicker, cheaper, and better to use the native and his methods. Nor was the spoil removed from one cutting used to build up the next embankment, as is the rule elsewhere. The spoil was thrown to one side, and the material required to fill a depression was taken from an adjacent borrow pit. Because there were no other means of transport, every ounce of transport had to be brought from the railhead by native carriers. There were no horses, mules, or oxen in the primeval jungle.

THE RAILWAY SYSTEM of the Gold Coast

THE RAILWAY SYSTEM of the Gold Coast. Accra, the seat of government, was not connected by rail with Kumasi before 1923. The total route mileage is about 500, mainly on the 3 ft. 6 in. gauge.

The disadvantage of building the railway from one end only was that as soon as an embankment was raised the rails had to be laid over it, no interval being permitted to allow settlement to take place. As the earthworks were built on treacherous ground, and the ballast was little better than loam or silt, subsidence’s, were frequent, although the depressions were drained as far as practicable. When the wet season set in the new earthworks suffered heavily in places; the soft soil was washed away, it packed tightly, or else it spread, thereby producing ominous “sink holes”. Further dumping and ballasting had to be carried out, the metals being lifted with jacks as the ballast was tamped beneath.

As the line approached the gold district, the mines, instead of shipping their material over the route followed before the coming of the railway, landed it at Sekondi and sent it to the railhead, whence it was transported overland. The result was that the railhead became congested with railway constructional material for the line and with goods for the mines.

The labour question became acute as the line penetrated into the forest, which was uninhabited. Because of the suscep-tibility of white men to the diseases of the country it was impossible to employ them as navvies; thus a native recruiting campaign was begun. The District Commissioners of various colonies in British West Africa circulated appeals for labourers in their territories. Although at first the response was poor, the news that the white man’s money was paid regularly, and that he gave just treatment and provided good rations, was circulated through the bush, and natives presented themselves in adequate numbers. The pay was not high according to civilized standards, averaging a shilling a day all found - being that of the British infantry private when the war of 1914-18 began; but it was ample for a native. When work was in full swing 16,000 natives, 12,000 of whom were brought in from Nigeria, found steady employment. When the railway was finished all the natives who wished to return to their homes were repatriated.

MARSHALLING SIDINGS on the branch railway from Sekondi to Takoradi

MARSHALLING SIDINGS on the branch railway from Sekondi to Takoradi. When the site of Takoradi Harbour was approved, it became necessary to link up the harbour railway with the main line from Sekondi into the interior.

They proved to be very intelligent, and most of them developed into good workmen. The camps, with rows of thatched huts, were so large that they resembled prosperous native villages. Men were picked out and were drilled in squads to act as police, to keep order among their fellows The pay day, once a month, was a great occasion All the natives, gaily bedecked as though for a fête, paraded at the engineer’s hut. They passed in a well-ordered queue before the table at which sat one or two engineers who handed them their pay.

The cost of construction was high, because of the distance from the source of supplies. Provisions, building material, and other supplies had to be brought from England, and the cost of transport was heavy. Certain articles, such as matches, sugar, and soap, which the Europeans had to have, cost several times their price in England by the time they were landed at Sekondi.

Every month a supply ship steamed out from Liverpool. The commissariat was a heavy responsibility with such a large army of workers; but it was organized so efficiently that it never failed, although there were anxious periods, such as that which followed the total wreck of a supply ship. When vessels arrived off Sekondi, much material was inevitably lost in tran-shipment into surf boats because of the lack of harbour facilities. These losses affected the progress of construction, as sometimes delays of several weeks occurred while duplicate orders of lost material were being fulfilled in England and shipped.

As the railway was nearing Tarkwa in 1900 the Ashantis rose in revolt. In 1896 a British military expedition had been sent to Kumasi, the capital of Ashanti, and had arrested and deported King Prempeh and the Queen Mother. The Golden Stool of Ashanti was hidden by the Ashantis, and searches made by the British were unsuccessful. The people were very restive, and in March, 1900, when the Governor visited Kumasi, he told the assembled chiefs that they must surrender the Golden Stool. He also sent an officer to search for it. In less than a week the Ashantis rose in arms, and besieged the Governor and the garrison of Kumasi. The Governor, escorted by part of the garrison, reached the coast. The officer holding Kumasi was relieved in July, and the rebellion was put down.


TAKORADI RAILWAY STATION. The harbour at Takoradi was opened on April 3, 1928, by Mr. J. H. Thomas, a former Secretary of State for the Colonies. The harbour branch railway from Sekondi, four miles north-east, has become the terminus of the main line to Kumasi.

EXTERIOR VIEW of Takoradi Railway Station. The track mileage of the harbour railways is twenty-four.

But for more than twenty years the Ashantis hid their Golden Stool. In 1921, when a new road was being made, the guardians of the Stool feared it would be found, so they removed it from its hiding-place in the ground and hid it in a house in a village. Then certain Ashantis stripped it of its gold and ornaments and began to sell them. This was discovered, and the persons concerned were arrested. The Chief Commissioner thereupon assembled the Kumasi chiefs and told them that the British Government made no claim whatever to the Golden Stool, and handed the offenders over to the chiefs for trial. The ornaments of the Golden Stool were remade, and it remains in Ashanti custody. The wise action of the Chief Commissioner can be appreciated by what the Head Linguist said on behalf of the chiefs:

“The Golden Stool is very great. It contains the soul of the nation. We honour it so much that if it had been tampered with by anyone from outside we would have risen in arms, and it would not have mattered to us if we all perished the same day. We tender our thanks.”

The ill-feeling aroused by the demand for the surrender of the Golden Stool in 1900 has now been dissipated, but at the time of the making of the first section of the railway it was a very serious matter for the white men. The news spread through the forest and was whispered among the native labourers. Engineers at the advanced works, or engaged in survey-revision work, found themselves suddenly deserted. The natives imported from Lagos retreated towards the coast or the big camps. At first the survey engineers thought that the rising was trivial and they stood their ground, but they soon learned the seriousness of the outbreak, and retreated. Work at the railhead was thrown into confusion, and the import-ation of labourers was stopped, the Government fearing that the recruits might side with the Ashantis. The natives working on the railway were commandeered to act as carriers to the troops selected for the relief of Kumasi. Disorganization was complete; work on the railway stopped.

Meanwhile a very remarkable man, Frederic Shelford, was hacking his way through the forest towards Kumasi, ignorant of the fact that a war was raging. Frederic Shelford was the son of Sir William Shelford, the engineer who initiated the railway conquest of West Africa by sending a, survey party to Sierra Leone in 1893, and also made the preliminary survey between Sekondi and Tarkwa. A year before the outbreak of the trouble over the Golden Stool, Mr. Shelford, who had taken over the reins of railway building operations on the retirement of his father, matured plans for continuing northwards from Tarkwa to Kumasi. Prospectors working north of the existing mines had discovered further deposits of gold. Mr. Shelford, who had been there, recognized the importance of this discovery and also the possibility of developing other resources which were lying dormant. He communicated with Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, who was then Colonial Secretary. Mr. Chamberlain replied to the effect that the Governor of the Gold Coast had suggested the building of a line from Accra, the British capital, to Kumasi. Mr. Chamberlain agreed that a railway should be built to the Ashanti stronghold, but suggested that surveys should be made both from Tarkwa and from Accra to Kumasi. He promised that the railway should be built with all possible speed when a favourable route was decided on.

Mr. Shelford set out with one assistant and fifty native porters to make the survey from Tarkwa to Kumasi. He soon found that, bad as conditions were between the coast and Tarkwa, conditions beyond Tarkwa were worse. It was a struggle through evil swamps and dense jungle, with such a terrific rainfall that it was not exceptional to experience four or five inches of rain in one tropical downpour.

There was not one native track to follow through the jungle, and the path had to be hacked, foot by foot, with a compass as the only guide. Mr. Shelford and his assistant were travelling light, to ensure that progress should not be impeded by heavy baggage. This means that the party had to cut necessities down to the bone. No camp outfit was carried except a few utensils for the preparation of food, and to filter and boil the drinking water. At the end of each day a clearing, a few yards in circumference, was made in the jungle to allow the camp, such as it was, to be pitched. The men slept on the rotting vegetation which covered the ground.

Rolling stock of the Gold Coast Government Railways

COVERED GOODS WAGON, built in Britain, for the Gold Coast Government Railways. The wagon runs on two four-wheel bogies, and has a capacity of twenty tons.

A FIRST-CLASS COACH, also built in Britain, for the Gold Coast Government Railways. The heavy shutters keep out the glare of the tropical sun, and help to protect the traveller from the penetrating dust. The length of the coach is 51 ft 3-in.

Before they had gone far Mr. Shelford’s assistant was struck down by blackwater fever. Then, although Mr. Shelford did not know it, the trouble over the Golden Stool flared up. He hacked his way steadily forward through the forbidding country, and, fortunately, did not encounter any natives. When he reached Kumasi he was surprised to find the English troops there, and was the first Englishman to enter the stronghold from Sekondi. The northward journey from Tarkwa had taken about three weeks. The survey made by Mr. Shelford was later compared with that made between Accra and Kumasi, and was accepted in preference, although, in later years, Accra too was linked with Kumasi.

When Kumasi was relieved, work on the section of the line from Sekondi to Tarkwa was resumed. It was completed in May, 1901. The development of the mines went ahead rapidly. The cost of transport fell from £40 to £5 a ton. The heaviest machinery was brought up to the mines and installed, and before long the mines were in full swing. There was no pause in railway construction. Steadily the line pushed forward into the difficult country, and in 1903 Kumasi was linked with Sekondi, a distance of 168 miles, the first train reaching the capital of Ashanti on October 1. It was not until twenty years later that, in 1923, the complete route Sekondi-Kumasi-Accra was completed.

Profitable War-Time Discovery

In 1915 an important discovery was made which had an important effect on the progress of the railway. A great deposit of manganese was discovered at a spot near Akyem, a station on the Sekondi-Kumasi line, about thirty-four miles from Sekondi. As manganese was in great demand during the war, no time was lost in opening up the mine. After the proclamation of peace great strides were made, so that a traffic which was non-existent when the railway was begun had increased to more than half a million tons a year by 1930.

Cocoa was first planted in the Gold Coast Colony in 1879. Since then there has been a progressive increase in the areas cultivated and in the produce exported. During the five years ending 1926 the average yearly shipment exceeded 200,000 tons. Other crops include palm-oil, shea-butter nut, cotton, coffee, rice, limes, and sisal.

Soon after the war it was obvious that the Colony would need to have better harbour accommodation than that of the exposed jetties at Accra and Sekondi, and it was decided to build a deep-water harbour at Takoradi, four miles south-west of Sekondi. In 1921 work was started, completion being expected about the end of 1924. A camp for the construction staff was built, and a road and a temporary railway track were also built in place of the old hammock-track between Sekondi and Takoradi. A large area was cleared of bush, European and African hospitals were built, workshops and store sheds were erected, and the site selected for the quarry, north of Sekondi, was opened up by road and rail. Unluckily, mining and engineering disputes in England delayed the delivery of plant, and it was not until the autumn of 1923 that a beginning was made with the breakwaters. Meanwhile, trade was increasing at such a pace that a committee recommended considerably increased railway and storage facilities. It soon became clear that the authorized expenditure would be largely exceeded, and that the harbour would not be completed by the end of 1924. The original estimates had therefore to be revised.


A CUTTING ON THE RAILWAY, showing a landslip due to the heavy rains. One of the tracks - partly seen on the right - is almost completely buried. In addition to landslips, the Gold Coast engineers have constantly to contend against wash-outs and flooding during the rainy season.

The “heavy artillery” of harbour construction was employed, as well as the ancient form of handling by head load; the result was ultimate success. The two main breakwaters enclose a water area of some 220 acres. The main breakwater is nearly a mile and a half in length, and is composed of granite rubble; it is topped by a concrete road, with a parapet wall of concrete on the seaward side. The core of the structure is protected by large random blocks of granite weighing from five to twelve tons. The finished top overall width is 30 feet.

The lee breakwater is smaller, the length being just under a mile, and the width at the top being 15 ft. Nearly two million tons of granite - from a quarry in the neighbourhood - went to the making of the two breakwaters, but only one-seventh of this is visible at high water. Every building in the harbour area has road and railway connexions.

The harbour branch railway has become the beginning of the Takoradi-Kumasi main line; this section to the junction with the Sekondi line is a double-line track, six and a half miles long. Marshalling sidings, weighbridges, goods offices, locomotive sheds, and a turn-table are provided. Including sidings and the double track to Takoradi Junction, the harbour railways total twenty-tour miles, of 3 ft 6-in gauge.

The granite quarry is two miles from Sekondi and six and a half miles from the harbour. The granite lay under overburden which reached the depth of 50 ft in places. To ensure an uninterrupted output of rock it was found necessary to spoil the whole of this overburden to the rear of the quarry.

Fifteen-Ton Cranes

A cutting 70 ft deep was made through the hill, and the adjoining ravine was spanned by a timber trestle bridge about 50 ft high. The cutting and the overburden were removed by head loads into Decauville wagons drawn by petrol locomotives. This method was necessary because of the presence of large boulders, and of the uneven surface of the granite; these conditions precluded the use of mechanical diggers.

The level of the quarry floor was determined by the requirements of gravitation drainage and by the existence of the Gold Coast Railway, which, running at right angles to the line from the quarry, had to be crossed by a diamond crossing. Five holes were sunk through the rock to the level decided upon, and were broken into one another to form a narrow gullet. This was then progressively widened out until the floor area was large enough to allow the use of five 15-ton derrick cranes with 85-ft jibs, and one 10-ton travelling crane, each with two attendant 5-ton travelling cranes, and also a group of three 5-ton travelling cranes. In addition, a 15-ton travelling crane was used for erection and repair work. Steel boxes of two sizes were used for handling rubble, the smaller ones being filled by hand and then emptied into the larger ones by the 5-ton travelling cranes. The large boxes and single stones of heavy weight were placed on flat cars by the 15-ton derrick cranes. Shunting engines marshalled the full and empty trains.

The rock was extracted by boring and blasting. The boring was done by thirty-five tripod drilling machines, and twelve jack-hammers worked by compressed air supplied by two groups of air compressors.

The average holes bored by the tripod drills were 24 ft deep, the jack hammers being used for holes of 6 ft and under. The drills were kept in condition by three pneumatically operated sharpening machines, with three oil-fed furnaces, housed in a separate shed, and run by a separate air compressing plant. Because of the great hardness of the granite and its intrusions, the amount of sharpening required was excessive.

LIGHT RAILWAY used for conveying cocoa to the river barges

LIGHT RAILWAY used for conveying cocoa to the river barges. During the five years ended 1926 the average yearly shipment of cocoa exceeded 200,000 tons.

The explosive generally used was 42 per cent gelignite, although higher percentage gelignite and black powder were employed at times. Blasting was carried out twice a day, before the general start in the morning and during the midday meal hour. About 160 tons of explosives were used in the quarry, and the safety precautions were so efficient that there were no fatal accidents due to blasting. Damage to the plant was kept down by removing the travelling cranes from the face and by protecting the derricks with screens of stout round logs. threaded on wire bonds to form a mattress. After fifteen months a night shift was introduced into the working of the quarry.

There were two batteries of rock crushers near the main air-compressing station, capable of a daily output of 250 tons. Rock was delivered to the crushers from an overhead railway, and was supplied through screens to wagons on the ground level. The rock broken amounted to 84,000 cubic yards, and was used as railway ballast, road metal, and as the broken stone in concrete. During the time of the maximum output the quarry face was 1,400 ft long and 70 ft high. The greatest output of stone in one week was 20,045 cubic yards; in a calendar month 80,400 cubic yards; and in one year 900,000 cubic yards.

The heaviest section of the main breakwater is 60 ft high, with a base 250 ft wide. The granite rubble was placed in this breakwater by a 15-ton derrick crane, with an 85 ft jib, mounted on a steel frame structure, carried on rails by six sets of four-wheeled swivelled bogies, the king post of the derrick standing on the shoulder of the seaward bank of the breakwater. The height of the portal of the derrick allowed locomotives and wagons to pass under it.

The rock was brought from the quarry to the breakwater in the large steel boxes, each containing about five cubic yards of rock, on flat bogie cars, two boxes on each car, in train loads of 500 tons at a time, drawn by two tender locomotives. The rock trains were marshalled in sidings at the approach to the breakwater; from this point they were drawn on to the breakwater by a side-tank locomotive, which handed them over to two smaller side-tank shunting engines that were in constant attendance on the cranes. The steel boxes were picked up by the derrick, which was equipped with a tipping gear to empty their contents into the sea. More than a million cubic yards of granite rubble were deposited in the main breakwater.

A Million Cubic Yards

In the construction of the smaller breakwater, rock was deposited by means of a 15-ton swan-necked travelling crane. The work was not started until the main breakwater, on which work was frequently interrupted by heavy surf, was sufficiently advanced to afford protection from the sea. Nearly halt a million cubic yards of rock were tipped in this arm.

The main wharf carries railways as well as crane tracks. It is 1,500 ft long, and has a deck 42 ft wide, carried by heavy reinforced concrete beams on cylindrical columns of 6 ft diameter. There are 246 of these columns, the shells of which were pre-cast in 5 ft rings. The rings were lowered by 5-ton derrick cranes into the water to prepared foundations of from 18-in to 8 ft deep below the sea-bed.

The divers excavating the sandstone for the foundations had to use jack hammers, high explosives, sand pumps, and water jets. Air compressors were placed on staging carried on the tops of unfinished cylinders. The water jets and sand pump were operated from barges.

The areas reclaimed necessitated the removal of more than a million cubic yards of material, chiefly from the great gash known as the Takoradi cutting. Much of this material was a very hard dark-grey shale, which had to be shattered by explosives before the heaviest steam navvies could excavate it. There were four steam navvies, fitted with 3¼ cubic yard buckets. These were supplemented by the pick, shovel, and basket method - the traditional Gold Coast system.

The harbour boundary is enclosed by an unclimbable iron fence, 7 ft high and 1,500 yards long. There are eleven gates.

A view of Jim Abufu Station, Gold Coast RailwayThe contractors paid such attention to the health of the workers that in the three years from September, 1924, to September, 1927, there were only three deaths from disease out of a total of 164 Europeans. There were seven cases of malaria, two Europeans died as the result of accidents, and seven were sent home owing to illness or because they were not suited to the climate. The average number of Africans employed during this period was 4,000 a day.

IN THE HEART OF THE JUNGLE. A view of Jim Abufu Station. Some of the forest trees attain a height of 140 ft, and are sometimes brought down by a high wind, often falling across the track.

The men were housed in cool, substantial huts, built of “swish” rendered in cement, and all the huts were mosquito proofed, and had water-borne sewerage which had been installed by the Government. The water, from Sekondi waterworks, was re-chlorinated.

The catering was done by the contractors. This avoided the loss of time and energy which would have resulted if the men had been left to their own resources. It also enabled all cooking materials and utensils and food to be under one roof, so that everything could be supervised and inspected. It was thus possible to see that the utmost cleanliness was preserved in cooking and in serving meals. In addition the employees had the advantage of a cold storage plant in which all food arriving from England was placed. Thus there was no illness due to food. There were hospitals, dressing stations, a cinema, a library, and a sports club.

It was intended at first that the Europeans should work for a period of eighteen months, but early in the course of the work a period of nine months was substituted, the average being, in practice, eight and a half months. This proved satisfactory, and the wisdom of it is reflected in the remarkable health figures quoted above, especially when compared with the heavy mortality among the railway pioneers at the beginning of the century.

A Royal Visit

The progress of the work was at first slow, and in 1925 the contract date for completion was extended to December, 1930. but a bonus was offered for earlier completion. By intensive working the contractors increased their rate of progress, and the harbour was opened on April 3, 1928, by the former Colonial Secretary, Mr. J. H. Thomas.

During the construction of the harbour the Prince of Wales, who visited the Colony in 1925, inspected the works at Takoradi. He arrived in HMS Repulse on April 9, and landed at a temporary stage at the breakwater. Only a few days before the surf had carried away part of the breakwater, and there was some anxiety on shore as the white surf-boat, paddled by Africans, approached through the rough water; but the landing was safely accomplished.

The Prince’s visit included a journey by train from Sekondi to Kumasi, and a royal train was made up of fifteen coaches drawn by two locomotives, one of which bore in cast steel letters the name “Prince of Wales”. The coaches had been repainted throughout, and the interiors converted so that some were available as dining-cars and others as bedrooms, camp beds and bedding with mosquito nets being provided. The Prince travelled in the last car, which had an observation platform behind. Telephones were installed throughout the train, and near each was a plan of the train and an index giving the name and coach of each passenger. Arrangements were made for tapping the telegraph wires at stopping places, so that not only was the Prince in telegraphic communication with the world, but also the newspapermen were able to put their stories on the wire to England.

Preceded by a pilot train, the royal train left Sekondi station at six pm, soon traversed the hilly scrub country which borders the sea, and just before night fell the Prince obtained his first view of the gigantic forests. Soon after seven a halt was made for dinner, the Prince and his staff dining with the Governor in the Governor’s dining coach.

OBUASI RAILWAY STATION, north of Tarkwa, Gold Coast

OBUASI RAILWAY STATION, north of Tarkwa. The Tarkwa-Obuasi section of the line was opened in 1902, having been completed in seventeen months. Obuasi is the headquarters of the Ashanti Goldfields Corporation.

Just before nine o’clock the train passed through the works of the great manganese mine at Nsuta, flares and other lights showing up dimly in the darkness the crowds of natives who work in the mines. A few minutes later the train arrived at Tarkwa station, where practically the entire population of the centre of the mining area of the Gold Coast had gathered. The Prince inspected native ex-soldiers who had fought in the war, presented Royal Humane Society bronze medals to six men for bravery during a fire at a mine, and inspected the station. The train went on through the great forest, crossed the Offin River into Ashanti, and at two am halted in the wide clearing of Obuasi, the headquarters of the Ashanti Goldfields Corporation, Here was a fairy-like scene under the tropic moon, lights shining from the bungalows and workshops, and on the many hilltops. At four o’clock the train stopped at Eduadin, a small station about half an hour’s run from Kumasi. Here the train stopped for two hours to enable passengers to make use of the specially erected bath-houses, drink an early cup of tea, and put on their uniforms in readiness for the ceremonial arrival at Kumasi.

The spectacle was one that had never been seen before in the Ashanti jungle - the spick and span royal train, the group of Europeans in gay dressing-gowns drinking tea on the platform of the wayside station, the hurrying “boys” bearing sponges and towels, all in a setting enclosed by the gigantic forest trees, through the trunks of which wisps of mist were slowly drifting in the growing light of dawn.

At half-past six on Good Friday morning the train arrived at Kumasi station. The Prince attended a number of ceremonies, and returned to the train at half-past ten that night. The train travelled a short distance to Wiresu, where, in a large clearing bathed in moonlight and encircled by the black wall of the forest, a halt of five hours was made to enable the party to sleep. Then the train went on to Nkawkaw, a township about 110 miles from Accra, where native chiefs were presented to the Prince. It stopped again at Bosuso, a small station in the cocoa-farming area.

At this point the Prince left the train and travelled by road through the cocoa fields to Accra.

Modern Improvements

In recent years improvements to the track have been made. In 1928, because of track consolidation, the times of passenger trains between Sekondi and Kumasi were reduced by two hours forty minutes, and between Accra and Kumasi by forty-five minutes. The engineers have washouts and floods during the rainy season. Sometimes there are as much as eighteen inches of water over the rails, and heavy rains may cause the failure of an embankment, interrupting traffic for days.

Many of the bridges have been built by contractors; they include the Pra River bridge, which is 480 ft long, and the Offin River bridge, which has three 100-ft spans. The Birrim Bridge, on the line to Kad, was built by the Railway Department. There are two 100-ft spans and one of 60 ft. It is a combined road and railway bridge, the road being alongside and independent of the railway track.

Types of locomotives include the following: 4-6-0 tender, superheated, two cylinders 16-in by 23-in, working pressure 180 lb, 4 ft 6-in coupled wheels, tractive effort 16,682 lb, total weight 74 tons 2 cwt (engine 44 tons 8 cwt, tender 29 tons 14 cwt). For passenger work.

0-8-0 tank shunting engine, using saturated steam, working pressure 180 lb, diameter of coupled wheels 3 ft 6¾-in, tractive effort 26,670 lb, weight 48 tons 8 cwt.

4-8-2 heavy goods tender engine, superheated, working pressure 180 lb, diameter of coupled wheels 3 ft 9-in, tractive effort 32,015 lb, total weight 106·46 tons (engine 73·7 tons, tender 32·76 tons).

The first-class passenger coaches measure 51 ft 3-in over the body. There are all-steel third-class coaches, 20-ton bogie covered goods wagons, and 25-ton low-sided wagons.

The locomotives and rolling-stock are imported. Repairs are carried out at the workshops at Sekondi and Accra.

The development of roads and motor transport has brought increased competition, especially from the African or Syrian setting up in business, who obtains the vehicle on the hire-purchase system and lives in it, thus reducing his overhead charges.

The cost of transport per ton-mile by the old method of carriers, thirty-seven men to the ton, is between 5s and 6s, whereas by motor lorry it is 10d to 1s 2d and by railway 3d to 7½d. Head transport has in places, therefore, almost ceased to exist.

As we have seen, the object of the first railway was to enable the gold mines to be operated by machinery. Not only was this object attained, but the railways were also able to help in developing the new industries which had not been foreseen by the early railway pioneers who toiled so arduously in the great forest.

HEAVY 4-8-2 GOODS LOCOMOTIVE, built for the 3 ft 6-in gauge of the Gold Coast Government Railways

HEAVY 4-8-2 GOODS LOCOMOTIVE, built for the 3 ft 6-in gauge of the Gold Coast Government Railways. The driving wheels have a diameter of 3 ft 9-in, the engine and tender weigh 106 tons, and the tractive effort is 32,015 lb.

          [From part 21 and part 22, published 21 June and 28 June 1935]

[Read the previous article in part 21]              [Read the next article in part 22]

You can read more on “Across Africa by Rail”, “Nigeria & Sierra Leone” and “Through Desert and Jungle” on this website.