Madagascar is home to the last running Michelines worldwide. Indeed there exist other Michelines for example in France, but those are safely kept in museums. In contrast, two of these rail buses still chauffeur travelers around Madagascar – although it is restricted to a few times a year nowadays.
André Michelin, who gave the name to his invention, developed the light railcars in the 1930ies. He looked for a rail vehicle that enabled passengers to travel more comfortable, convenient and quicker than the usual, jerky railway. So Michelin used air-filled rubber tires with a supporting construction made from aluminum that was able to hold the heavyweight wagons. Already in 1929, he had patented his idea but improved it over the years. Together with his son, he promoted the rail buses. In Madagascar, the first Micheline was running in 1937, covering almost 370 km from the capital Antananarivo to the east coast city Toamasina (Tamatave) in nine hours with a speed of 44 km/h. The tires lasted 20.000 km before they needed to be changed.
Finally, the Michelines did not prevail the normal trains – mainly due to their much more sensitive tires. Also in Madagascar, the tires are the biggest problem of the Michelines, even more, because the Malagasy rails are hardly maintained and in bad condition.
In Fianarantsoa in the southern highlands of Madagascar, where the famous Jungle Express starts, too, you can rent one of the two Michelines (type ZM 516) for special occasions. It drives on one-meter broad narrow-gauge railways, that have been exclusively built in the former French colony. Travelers can go 21 km to Sahambavy comfortably in 19 wicker chairs. The Micheline is paneled in wood on the inside and has an original 650 PS motor.
The second Micheline, type ZM 517, has been renovated in 2000 the last time and is called “Viko-Viko”. In earlier times, it ran from the capital Antananarivo in the central highlands to Andasibe in the east (about 150 km) and Antsirabe in the southern highlands (about 170 km). The latter regularly drived every other week on Saturdays at 8 o’clock a.m. To Andasibe, and on Sundays at the same time to Antsirabe. The price was 100.000 Ariary (30 to 35 €) for one way. Both Michelines are owned by Madarail. Unfortunately, due to a lack of will on the part of Madarail to maintain the trains, trips are hardly possible at the moment.