The very first railway in the French colony of Sénégal was built in a part of the country that now falls within the boundaries of Mali. The first railway in what would become present day Senegal opened in 1924 from Dakar to Kayes; this was a metre gauge line, of which about 645km lay in the territory of the present day country. Several branch lines were subsequently built, giving an eventual network of around 900km.
After Senegal and Mali gained their independence in 1960, the line to Kayes became an international line. The respective governments each took control of the railways in their own territory, with arrangements put in place for the continuance of international traffic.
In 2003, the two governments handed over control of the lines to a private consortium. Little investment was put into them and they remained in poor condition with erratic services. The concession was withdrawn in 2016. A new company, Petit Train de Banlieue, was formed to operate suburban passenger services on a 27km section of the line between Dakar and Rufisque. Services on the Petit Train de Banlieue ceased in 2019 with the opening of the Train Express Régional.
In 2014, Grande Côte Operations (GCO) began operating trains from its mineral sands extraction project, on a line whose construction it had funded consisting of 22km of new alignment to Mékhé, and the rehabilitation of the existing line from there to Dakar, a distance of around 100km.
In 2019, the first section of the Train Express Régional (TER), a new standard (1435mm) gauge passenger railway, 36km from Dakar to Diamniadio, was completed, although the line was not officially opened until late 2021. A further 19km to Blaise Diagne International Airport is expected to open by 2023. The line parallels the route of the rehabilitated metre gauge line used by GCO.
In 2020, a new state owned company, Chemins de fer du Sénégal (CFS), was formed to take over all railway operations in Senegal with the exception of the Train Express Régional. This includes plans for rehabilitation of the section of line between Dakar and Tambacounda on the former international line, with possible future restoration of the whole line.
Also in 2020, another new company, Grands Trains de Sénégal (GTS) was formed with the objective of reintroducing long distance passenger services on three routes from Dakar to Saint Louis, Touba, and Kaolack. The company is also expected to become an independent freight operator.
In 2021, tentative plans were announced for a new railway connecting mines in the far southeastern part of the country with the rehabilitated main line near Tambacounda.
In 2023, studies were initiated for extensions of the TER to Thiès and Mbour.
© 2006-2023 Glyn Williams
Photo image by Seydina Aba Gueye (VOA) from Wikimedia Commons