The Iron Ore Express
By Chadd McGlone
Chapel Hill, NC, United States
The Nouadhibou train station in Mauritania consists of a group of small white buildings in the middle of a sandy plain. Looking around, you see nothing but beige ground and blue sky. If you happen to be traveling to the small mining town of Zouerat, the Iron Ore Express is the only way to go. This train is nearly three kilometers long and makes the 674-kilometer journey to the coast daily.
A Very Long Train
Standing along the track, even though the Iron Ore Express is one of the world’s longest trains, you might not even see it in the massive cloud of sand it whips up. Once the train storms into the station, you would hear the loud rumbling of its four locomotives pulling more than 220 freight cars.
For about 1,000 ouguiya (MRU), which is about US$27, you can purchase entry onto one of the two or three passenger cars, where you might find a perch on a wooden carriage seat. Once on board the crowded car, you will share your ride with many local men. The locals make the journey as comfortable as possible, spreading blankets over the floor and sharing biscuits and jam with each other.
For about three times more than the price of a regular seat, you can purchase a first class ticket and gain access to a smaller room complete with bunk beds stacked three high. Or, if you happened to spend your last MRU on a large bowl of thieboudiene (a fish and rice dish), then you can ride for free on a pile of ore on top of one of the ore cars. Just bring your blanket, your leftovers, and have a picnic!
Your picnic will last about 17 hours. Traveling at a top speed of 50 kilometers per hour, the Iron Ore Express passes through small desert communities on its way to Zouerat. After about six hours, the train makes its first stop in the dusty outpost of Choum, where departing passengers hire taxis to reach their homes beyond the sandy dunes.
The second stop, about two hours later, is intended to provide passengers with a short break to enjoy a quiet moment in the desert. Finally, after 17 long hours, you will disembark among piles of iron ore in Zouerat.
Have a suggestion for this story? We’d love for you to submit it!
- If a standard freight car can carry about 85 tons of ore, how much ore does each train carry? Write a linear equation to model the amount of ore x freight cars can carry.
- Distinguish between first and second class. How many people need to fit into the first class car for the train company to make profit?
- How many cars can each locomotive pull?
- If each ore car is 13.5 meters (m) long, each locomotive is 20 m long, and each passenger car is 12 m long, about how long is the train?
- If the entire trip takes 17 hours to complete and Choum is six hours from the beginning, what fraction of the entire trip have you traveled at that stop?
- If the entire trip is 674 kilometers, about how far is Choum from Nouadhibou? What is the average speed of the train for the entire trip? How many miles is Choum from Zourat?
- One US dollar is worth approximately how many MRU? Five MRU is worth approximately how many cents?
- A first class ticket costs how much?
- What is the maximum speed for the Iron Ore Express in miles per hour?
- Mauritania gained independence from France in 1960. How many years has Mauritania been an independent country?
- Because of severe drought and desertification of the land, the population in Mauritania’s capital city, Nouakchott, grew from 134,700 to approximately 728,600 between 1977 and 2000. Likewise, Nouadhibou’s population almost quintupled from 21,900 in 1997 to 107,900 in 2000.
a. What is the average annual growth rate for both of these cities?
b. If the cities continued to grow at the current rate, how big will they be in 2050?
c. Is this growth linear or exponential? Explain.
- How many kilometers and miles does the train cover per day, per week, etc?
- If there are x people paying, how much money is made?
- Research the fastest train in the world and compare it to the Iron Ore Express.
- Create a schedule of stops for the train.
Social Justice Question
Very few women ride this train. Why do you think that is? What should be done about it?
- News story about taking a trip on the train
- Blog about riding as a Western woman
- Video of one person’s ride
- Country profile of Mauritania
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