Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Video: The Mauritania Railway — Backbone of the Sahara


Built to transport Mauritania’s vast iron ore reserves, the Mauritania Railway is a 704-kilometer line that cuts through the Sahara Desert on its way from the mining center of Zouerat to the port city of Nouadhibou on Africa’s Atlantic coast.

At 3-kilometers in length, trains on this line are among the longest and heaviest in the world. Passenger cars are sometimes attached to the train, but more often men opt to stow away atop the hopper cars, where daytime temperatures exceed 40°C. Death from falls is common.

The Mauritania Railway: Backbone of the Sahara follows the journey of Malick, a 27 year-old merchant who relies on the train for his livelihood, even as he risks death each time he climbs aboard. Despite the danger, the train is a lifeline for Malick and the families that live along the railway’s path.

Over a two year period, the crew behind The Mauritania Railway: Backbone of the Sahara embedded themselves in the community of men and women who depend on the train for their livelihood. The result is a cinematic yet immersive glimpse into a way of life that exists nowhere else in the world.

Macgregor and his team shot this film entirely on a Sony F35 camera, which they modified with a Nikon mount in the pursuit of lightness and a wider array of available lenses. A 25-pound camera setup is far from ideal when shooting atop a moving train, but the resulting filmic quality gives audiences a view of Western Saharan landscapes that they’ve never seen before.

The Mauritania Railway: Backbone of the Sahara explores one of the world’s most remote, harsh, and breathtaking environments, where traditional lifestyles collide with the modern world. This region, too easily dismissed by travelers, provides a backdrop for beautiful human pageants that play out every day.


The Mauritania Railway: Backbone of the Sahara is directed by MacGregor. Produced in partnership with Antonio Aguilar, Tim Hyten, and Aaron Mckenzie, the film also features a score by award-winning composer Rhian Sheehan.

Running time: 12:24

Email subscribers may click on the title of this post to watch the video.


MacGregor shooting from atop a moving train with a Sony F35

One comment on “Video: The Mauritania Railway — Backbone of the Sahara

  1. Susan Tyler
    June 30, 2019

    6/30Hi Maria–Ready for another desert field trip?   If you have 12 & a half minutes, watch this!  I loved it, especially the distance shots.Susan       

    Liked by 1 person

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