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Fianarantsoa - Côte Est Railway

The Fianarantsoa Cote Est rail line is one of the three steepest railways in the world (the other two are in Ecuador and in Myanmar), dropping about 600 meters in one 20-km stretch. The line goes through 67 bridges and 48 tunnels, and offers breath-taking panoramic views as it winds its way down the rugged escarpment of the eastern ranges. The train's speed varies between 20 and 35 km/h . It calls on a total of 17 village stations, where the arrival of the train is one of the major events of daily life. From the platforms, vendors' offerings include a variety of fruit as well as the occasional tray of freshwater crayfish ... Past the imposing waterfalls of the Mandriampotsy river near km 48, the forest gets gradually less dense until the train reaches the open coastal plain.

Started in 1926 in Manakara, the line reached Fianar in 1936, and remained operational for the following 45 years. It was the only means for the local villagers to deliver their produce to market and to bring in the necessities of daily life. Lack of maintenance and a steady decline during the nineties culminated in the double hits wrought by cyclones Eline and Gafilo in 2000. Multiple landslides brought over 150,000 m3 of mud crashing on several segments of the line. Thanks to the resources of the World Bank, the USAID, and in particular the tireless efforts of Karen Freudenberger, the train is back up and running five times a week in each direction, to the delight and relief of the 100,000-odd people who depend on it.

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