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The first railway in what was then Dahomey was opened in 1906 between the port of Cotonou and Ouidah, a distance of about 45km. The gauge chosen was metre gauge, typical for a French colonial railway of the time. The main line was extended in stages to reach Parakou (437km from Cotonou) by 1936. When other lines were built, the original line became know as the Northern Line. The other lines were the Eastern Line from Cotonou to Pobé (107km) and the Western Line, a branch from the Northern Line at Pahou to Ségboroué (33km). The newer lines were closed in the latter half of the 20th century, leaving only line the Northern Line open until the reopening of a short stretch of the Eastern Line from Cotonou to the capital, Porto Novo, in 1999.

In 2005, a 574km extension of the Northern Line was proposed, from its northern terminus of Parakou to Miamey in Niger. However, no work was undertaken until a new public-private concessionary was appointed for the construction in 2014. The concession also involves rehabilitation of the remainder of the network and new passenger services.

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Flag image from CIA World Factbook