Into the Modern Era

Dreams of a trans-Saharan railway began in the 1860’s but were abandoned when interest waned in the wake of the killing of Colonel Flatter and his expedition in 1881 by the Toureg tribesmen of southern Algeri15. World War One brought about a renewed interest in penetrating deeper into the Sahara to secure and maintain territory during the war. The French were also required to drive Army convoys deep into the desert to suppress Toureg uprisings between 1914 and 1919.

The war renewed interest amongst the French in establishing trans-Saharan trade routes for both economic and military purposes which would link French Algeria with their southern colonies. The construction of improved roads made it as far south as the Hoggar mountains, but the rail line never materialized. Trans-Saharan air transportation was attempted but never realized as these early airplanes lacked many navigational aids, could be batted around in the air by sudden gusts of wind, and would be absolutely destroyed by desert sandstorms.

In 1928 the French approved a new automobile route from Bechar in Algeria all the way to Gao on the Niger River bend, but this project also died on the vine as it was too expensive without immediate economic return, and so the camel remained the primary method of transportation across the Sahara.
Trans-Saharan Challenges: Smuggling, Terrorism, and the Struggle for a State (Part 4)

By 1951, automobiles, buses, and airplanes were all traversing the Sahara and engaging in trade and other commercial activities. One route ran from Gao to Reggan and another from Agades to In Sala, however buses only drove these routes once every few weeks and only in the winter months due to the intense desert heat during the summer, following the pattern of many of the medieval camel caravans. These routes were taken by the Europeans but were mostly utilized by local16 who would travel to seaports in Algeria to work for a few years before returning home to the Sahara.