Mr. Beardsley to Mr. Fish.
Cairo , February 24, 1873. (Received March 25.)
Sir: I have the honor to forward by this mail, direct to the Department, Mr. Fowler’s report on the proposed railway to the Soudan and on the ship-incline over the first cataract.
The railway will commence at Wady Halfa, near the bottom of the second cataract, and continue up the right bank of the Nile 257 kilometers to Kohé, where it will cross to the left or west bank on an iron bridge. From Kohé it will follow the river as nearly as possible to Ambukol, a distance of 349 kilometers. At the latter place the Nile, making a great curve, runs northward and eastward about 240 kilometers to Aboo Hammed, where it again sweeps around to the south, and, passing Berber, receives the waters of the Atbara, and finally reaches Khartoum at the confluence of the Blue Nile and the White Nile. Within this great curve of the river lies the Bahinda Desert, uninhabited except by wandering Bedawee tribes. The railway will leave the river at Ambukol and cross this desert in almost a straight line to Shendy on the Nile, which will be the southern terminus of the Soudan Railway.
Shendy, 283 kilometers from Ambukol, is about 160 kilometers northeast of Khartoum and about the same distance southwest of Berber.[Page 1128]
The entire length of the line from Wady Halfa to Shendy will be 889 kilometers; the estimated cost is £4,000,000 sterling; and the time required to complete the entire work, it is hoped, will not be more than three years from the date of its commencement. The narrow gauge of 3 feet 6 inches will be used, with rails weighing 50 pounds per yard and iron sleepers.
The works at the first cataract are to consist of a ship-railway upon which steamers and loaded boats may be transported up and down the cataract. The vessels will be floated upon a carriage, or cradle, constructed to run upon the railway, and will be hauled over land by powerful hydraulic engines of about 400 horse-power, placed near the center of the railway. The water to work these engines will be pumped up at a high pressure by a pair of large stream-wheels carried upon pontoons and driven by the rapids at the lower end of the cataract. The total cost of these works complete will be £200,000 sterling, and it is thought that they may be completed within one year and a half from the date of their commencement.
These two works, the Soudan Railway and the ship-incline, must be considered as integral parts of the same great enterprise, for either one of them would be of but little practical value without the other, the object being to afford an outlet by the Nile for the productions of the Soudan. At present only the lightest and most precious products of the Soudan can be brought down with any profit, owing to the great amount of land-carriage necessitated by the unnavigable condition of the river between the second and sixth cataracts, and to the frequent changes from water to land transportation.
The chief commercial centers of the Soudan for the collection of the products of a great part of Central Africa are Khartoum, Kordofan, and Darfur. Boats carrying about 40 tons of merchandise leave Khartoum and come down the river as far as Abou Hammed, where their cargoes are transferred to camels and cross the Nubian Desert to Korosko, below the Second Cataract, where they are again transferred to boats and carried down to the First Cataract; there they are a second time unloaded and carried around the cataract to Assouan, where they are finally reloaded into boats and proceed down the river to Cairo or Alexandria; thus having broken bulk four times, and having been carried overland, on camels, 390 kilometers.
From the Kordofan and Darfur districts the goods are brought by camels across the desert and embarked on the river at Dabbe and Handak, whence they are conveyed by boat and camel to lower Egypt, experiencing about the same number of changes as goods coming from Khartoum.
It is evident that Shendy will supersede Khartoum as a depot for the products of the Upper Nile when the Soudan Railway is completed. Merchandise then leaving Shendy, Dabbe, or Handak, by rail, will be transferred into boats at Wady Halfa, whence it will proceed unbroken to Alexandria, the loaded boats passing over the ship-incline at the First Cataract.
In my dispatch No. 46, of December 12, 1872, I had the honor to refer to the comprehensive views which His Highness the Khedive entertains in regard to the future development of the railway system of Egypt. The Soudan Railway is but one link in that system, which, when perfected, His Highness intends shall embrace an uninterrupted railway from Alexandria to Massowah on the Red Sea. Its benefits will then be more than local, for it will shorten the route to India and the East several days, and it may become the artery up which will flow the new blood which is to civilize Central Africa.[Page 1129]
This work cannot but be of great national benefit in developing and utilizing a vast and fertile country which is now comparatively worthless. The Soudan and the country within reach of the navigable waters of the Nile is capable of great development, and is rich in many things which Egypt needs. Its soil is said to be well adapted to the growth of cotton, grain, and sugar; timber is comparatively plenty, labor is abundant and cheap, and it is hoped that coal may be found within reasonable distance of the Nile. Nothing will contribute more powerfully to demoralize and destroy the slave-trade in the Soudan than this railway, and in that point of view alone it is a desirable and praiseworthy enterprise.
Mr. Fowler is now in Egypt for the purpose of commencing the work at an early day, and it is confidently expected that it will be completed by the spring or summer of 1876.
I am, &c.,