Aden Port Trust Tramway … and other things?

The Aden Port Trust was established on 1st April 1889 to take over the running of the port of Aden, which was previously carried out by the military authorities and private companies. [3][1: p184][12: IA36]

A plan of the Aden Peninsula in the period before the First World War, © Karl Baedeker jr (Life time: 1837-1911). This image is available in the public domain. [4]
An extract from the map above showing the city of Aden in the bottom right and the township of Maala. The location of Maala Pier can be made out just to the left of centre at the top of the extract. [4]
Maala Pier is more obvious on this more focussed extract. Maala Wharf should not be confused with Maala Pier. The Wharf was to the West of the Pier in the area of Somalipura on the Maala Plain. [4]
A further extract from the Baedeker map showing the Maala Plain. Maala Wharf was built out from the Maala Plain close to Somalipura. [4]

While researching the Aden State Railway, I came across a reference to the Aden Port Trust Tramway. My article about the Aden State Railway can be found on the following link:

It appears that there were a series of proposals for tramways in Aden.

A proposal to create a tramway running East-West from Crater (near to the main settlement of Aden) to Steamer Point at the western end of the peninsula, [9] ‘The Crater-Steamer Point Tramway’ was put forward in 1863. India Office Records (IOR) affirm this. [10] It seems that no action was taken at that time. However, just a few years later it seems a consignments of railway infrastructure and rolling stock/locomotives was sent to Aden from Abyssinia. [12: IA34]

Simon Darvill explains: “Following the end of the Abyssinian campaign in 1868, some of the railway equipment that had been used on the campaign was sent to Aden. It comprised of two locomotives, two carriages, two brake vans, 20 trucks, 480 rails, 3,250 chairs, 516 fishplates, 6,553 sleepers and two turntables. The equipment was unloaded in [July & August] 1868; it is thought to have been delivered on the ship Californian that left Abyssinia on 10/6/1868. A small shed and workshop was constructed in which to store the equipment. The intention was to build a railway from the pier head to the post office and possibly on to the cantonment. The line was considered to be a purely military venture and was not expected to pay its own expenses and that the main traffic would be Commissariat Stores. The 1869-70 annual report stated that it was still the intention to build the line and that the equipment was still in store in Aden. The last mention of the equipment found in the annual reports was in the 1872-73 report when the payment for a watchman for the railway plant was listed in the accounts for 1871-72. A reference appears in the Railway Stores Department records concerning correspondence on 28/2/1871 between the Bombay Government and the Military Department regarding the disposal of the equipment in Aden but unfortunately the actual correspondence appears to no longer exist. It is therefore impossible to say with certainty what happened to the equipment but it is suggested that it was either returned to India or scrapped sometime in 1871 . It is similarly impossible to say for certain which two of the six locomotives that were used in Abyssinia were sent to Aden” [12: IA34]

By 1896-97 it had been decided to lay a tramway from the head of the Maala Pier for a distance along Maala Road. “Tenders were received from a number of companies (Kerr Stuart, Dick Kerr and Boiling & Lowe [12: IA36]) for just less than one mile (1.5km) of track and wagons. The board decided that before any tender was accepted an experimental line should be laid along the length of the Pier, about 500 feet (150 metres), some old rails and sleepers were obtained from the Aden Public Works Department (PWD), this was obviously a success as the 2ft/610mm narrow gauge tramway was sanctioned in 1897-98.” [3][2] I wonder whether these old rails and sleepers were part of the consignment sent to Aden from Abyssinia in 1868? …

“In 1907-08 Maala Pier collapsed and required completely rebuilding. In 1911-12, 2,000 feet (610 metres) of 2ft./610mm. narrow gauge tramway, and other railway equipment, was purchased to link the tramway to two new sheds that were built as part of the Pier.” [3][2]

Simon Darvill records this event and notes that the work on Maala Pier was completed by December 1910. He provides greater detail about materials and rolling stock purchased at the time. He specifically mentions 8 turntables which must be the ‘other railway equipment’ mentioned above. He further notes that in early 1916, the Aden State Railway “laid a siding to Maala Pier. 24 new tramway wagons were ordered in 1919-20. The tramway was still in use when Aden became the responsibility of the Colonial Office in 1937.” [12: IA36]

Incidentally, Robert Mumford comments that “in 1910 it had been proposed to construct a 2ft. 6in. gauge steam tramway from Tawahi, a suburb of Aden close to Steamer Point where the ocean liners used to call, to Crater, the old capital, with a branch to Khormaksar and Sheikh ‘Othman.” [11] It seems likely that this is the same tramway as that referred to above and that Robert Mumford may have been misled about the gauge.

At least one locomotive was ordered for the 2ft. gauge tramway – A Kerr-Stuart ‘Wren’ series 0-4-0T locomotive (No. 1249) which bore the name ‘Sir James’ on brass nameplates. I have not been able to find a picture of the locomotive but the Industrial Railway Society provides a photograph of a sister locomotive, No. 1248. No. 1248 ‘Maipoori’ was built with tyres 5 in. wide having flanges 1½ in. deep for running on 2 ft. gauge wooden rails. The fuel racks round the bunkers are stated to have been provided for “a heavy wood fuel”. One injector and a long stroke pump driven from the right hand crosshead were provided. The illustration shows ‘Maipoori’ in its first incarnation before it was shipped to Demerara, British Guiana, on 22 November 1912. Its stay there, however, must have been short as it was back at the works in Stoke by June 1914. Alterations were made to make the locomotive suitable for normal track of 60 cm gauge, after which it was dispatched on 14 July 1914 to the City of Santos Improvements Company, Brazil. [6]

Kerr-Stuart No. 1248 ‘Maipoori’, a sister locomotive to No.1249 ‘Sir James’. [6]

The Route of the Tramway

We cannot be sure of the route. We are limited to a very few postcard images which show the tramway at specific points and it is impossible to tightly define those locations without good knowledge of the circumstances on the ground in Aden in the early to mid-20th century.

The pictures below show it present at Maala Wharf and at Post Office Bay. They show it also on Main street (Main Road) Maala and at a point on Maala Wharf where a significant wide pier extends out from the main Wharf.

Maala Wharf in the port of Aden. Two different railway gauges are visible in this postcard image. Those close to the camera are of the metre-gauge Aden State Railway. Those across the centre of the image are part of the Aden Port Trust Tramway.
The notes provided alongside this image indicate that it shows Aden Post Office Bay and Tramway in 1913: What looks like a tramway can be made out running along the sea wall in this image. It is possible that there was no tramway at this location as it is out at Steamer Point. This would mean that the apparent tramway is perhaps only a series of wheel ruts in a poor road surface! I have been unable to find any other indication that the Aden Port Trust Tramway extended out to Steamer Point. The postcard is from the private collection of Steve Moore and is licensed for use under a Creative Commons Licence, (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). [5]

This image places the buildings in the above image at Steamer Point. [14]

A colourised postcard image showing Maala Wharf. The Tramway is in evidence but there is no sign of the metre-gauge line. Interestingly, the flat wagons shown in this image appear not to have couplings which suggests that they were moved individually rather than in a train and perhaps that they were move by manpower. [7]
This monochrome version of the same postcard image bears a frank on its reverse dating it to 1940. If the date of franking correlates approximately to the date of manufacture of the postcard, this would explain the absence of the metre-gauge line as this was lifted by 1930. [8]
This postcard view is undated but probably shows Maala in the 1920s or 1930s. It has dual tram tracks in the highway of Main Road (or Main Street?) Maala. There is also evidence of a branch running off to the right of the image in front of the light-coloured building through or behind the road vehicles parked there. [13]

In summary, we know that the tramway existed from both photographic and written evidence. We know that one 2ft Gauge locomotive was purchased by the Port authority. Otherwise, there is little more available about the tramway.

Two further interesting pictures suggest that the 2ft gauge was in use outside of the limits of the Port of Aden.

The Salt Works

While looking for photographic evidence online for the 2ft. gauge line in the port area of Aden I came across one photograph which shows a narrow-gauge tramway in use in the Salt Works which were located at the northern end of the isthmus. This prompted a little more research.

Camel-power on the salt flats to the West of the isthmus on the mainland. [15]

That research led me to two websites. The first was Peter Pickering’s short history of the salt works/salt flats on his blog. [16] Apparently the salt works were leased rent-free to an Italian family and were often referred to as the ‘Italian Salt Works’. Pickering comments that the family from Trapani in Sicily. It seems that when they established their business in Aden, they based the set-up on that at their salt works between Marsala and Trapani, “including the use of windmills to pump the salt water into the pans. The renewal of the 240 acre lease was completed literally only a day or two before Great Britain and Italy went to war in June 1940. The 14 Italian employees were interned and after the war they did not return to Aden.” [16]

Pickering continues: “The salt pans painted a  picturesque scene, the majestic windmills with their broad canvas sails spread on broad wooden lattice frames, reflected in the shimmering azure water. The windmills would later be replaced with pumps, driven by small engines, located in rather unattractive tin sheds.” [16]

The salt flats in Aden. Windmills were used, at first, to power the pumps which brought sea water to the salt pans furthest from the sea and the gradually concentrating brine from one salt pans to the next. [16]

Pickering speaks of an aqueduct carrying “sea-water from the pumping-station of the salt works to the most inland of pans where the first stage of evaporation was carried out. It was then pumped from one series of pans to another, becoming stronger brine at each stage, until the salt at last crystallized out in the pans round the salt works. When the evaporation process was complete the salt was collected in metal buckets. The metal buckets were hand-carried to the conveyor belt which raised the flow of salt to the top of the pile. The piles were next to the ‘railhead’.” [16]

The second website was that of [17] which provides a map showing the location of the salt flats and two postcard images, one of which shows camels in use pulling trams/wagons filled with salt.

The location of the salt works at the North end of the isthmus. [17]
A postcard view of the stockpiles of salt at the Salt Works’ with a camel ready to haul a train of salt-filled trams/wagons. [17]

Elephant Bay Quarry

After asking for some assistance from the Industrial Railway Society (IRS) Email Group, I was sent a photograph which showed a 2ft-guage locomotive on a timber bridge at Elephant Bay Quarry which was taken in 1959. …

This photograph was taken in 1959 by Jeff Lanham. He recalls finding a very short 2’0″ line in a quarry at Elephant Bay with one small 4-wheel Diesel locomotive It was out of use at the time but in good condition. Martin Shill of the IRS commented that this appears to be a 2ft gauge 3.75 ton Rushton & Hornsby LBT, one of the earlier water-cooled batches. At a guess it might be RH 379648/1954, shipped to Pauling & Co., Aden. The photo is included with the kind permission of the photographer, © Jeff Lanham.

This diminutive locomotive was used by Pauling & Co. at the quarry in Elephant’s Bay. In 1956 the company are recorded in Hansard as being engaged in harbour development work in Aden. [18] The locomotive was built by Ruston & Hornsby (RH), The annotation ‘LBT’ referes to a sub-class or variant of loco type LB built by RH. The LB type was built 1952-1968, generally 31.5hp, for gauges between 1ft 6in and 3ft 6in.


  1. R.J. Gavin; Aden Under British Rule, 1839-1967; C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 1975, accessed on 20th August 2022.
  2. S. Darvill, Ed.; Industrial Railways and Locomotives of India and South Asia; The Industrial Railway Society, 2013.
  3., accessed on 20th August 2022.
  4., accessed on 20th August 2022.
  5., accessed on 20th August 2022.
  6., accessed on 21st August 2022.
  7., accessed on 21st August 2022.
  8., accessed on 21st August 2022.
  9., accessed on 21st August 2022.
  10. R/20/E/198, Item 2; “Vol III No 5 File 206 Tramway: application for a concession to build an electric tramway connecting the Crater with Steamer Point”; Jan-Feb 1896 (Records of the British Administration in Aden)
  11. Robert Mumford; Indian Outpost in Arabia; in The Railway Magazine, February 1976, p73-75.
  12. Simon Darvill; The Industrial Railways and Locomotives of India and South Asia; the Industrial Railway Society, 2015.
  13., accessed on 23rd August 2022.
  14., accessed on 23rd August 2022.
  15., accessed on 24th August 2022.
  16., accessed on 24th August 2022.
  17., accessed on 24th August 2022.
  18. ADEN (COMMISSION OF INQUIRY): HC Deb 18 April 1956 vol 551 cc1011-2 – Mr. Lennox-Boyd: “Early in April, after a period of comparative freedom from industrial unrest, further strikes occurred and still continue among the dock labour at Maalla, among employees of the large trading and petrol distributing concern, A. Besse and Company, among contractors’ labour on the site of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Pauling and Company, who are engaged on harbour development work.” …, accessed on 25th August 2022.

1 thought on “Aden Port Trust Tramway … and other things?

  1. Pingback: The Aden State Railway (Metre-Gauge) | Roger Farnworth

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