By now, it should be blindingly obvious to anyone reading my travel pages that I have a thing for trains! So, it is with great frustration that I report the existence of a functioning passenger train service in Madagascar that I didn't get the chance to road (or should that be 'rail') test!
In the excellent tourist office in the newly renovated train station in Tana (note the consistent theme!), I picked up a postcard advertising a tiny train (La Micheline Viko-Viko) that runs periodically between Tana and Antsirabe. If the pictures be believed, it is the weirdest-looking thing: rather like an American-style schoolbus which has had its wheels removed before being painted a surgical white and having a bright red 'cow catcher' attached to the front!
The schedule suggests that this service was running a once a month in July and August, departing one day, and returning the next so that you can overnight. The same train also travels between Tana and Andasibe - during July and August, this ran about once a week. I don't recall exactly what the price was - by this point I was so frustrated that we'd discovered something so exciting that we couldn't fit into our available time frame that I wasn't retaining detail too well - but it did strike me as being fairly reasonable, especially for an experience so unique.
If I recall, the journey time was about 4 hours (although I would treat any time estimate relating to Malagasy public transport with some caution). I would suggest that you contact the e-mail address or phone number given below to confirm dates/times and prices.
I can't decide whether or not I'd like to hear from you if you are lucky enough to take this train - on balance, I think so, if only to confirm that this is a factor that we should plan around for our next trip to Madagascar!
For the city being small, the main transportation for seeing around is by pousse-pousse (or bicycle).
Although I'll recommend to walk through the city, I'll recommend also the charm of this transportation means as in Antsirabe, they are most beautiful with their colours, and cleanest.
Plus, this city is so safe & nice to browse around. Whilst you could be afraid trailing your digicam in downtown Tana streets (I don't talk about La Haute in Tana, tis a safe area too), you could bring along your camera and play with it endlessly to immortalize those Antsirabean colonial style buildings & other various architectures (the more minimalist Scandinavian villas, the Swiss-chalet-lookalike, the Merina architecture ...)
Now, the pousse-pousse, overall rule: bargain !! tis a game the pullers use to enjoy after all. Arrange the price beforehand and you'll enjoy the ride ! Cannot give any idea of a fee, it was moons ago since I last rode a pousse-pousse. And, for those who are not comfortable with the idea of being pulled by a human, do know that it is their job, their main living. They use to feed their family with the money you'll give them.
They are my favourite transportation means to go to a city to another since they allow you to see landscapes. Besides, travelling by taxi-brousse with other passengers is a good way to know about Malagasy people since this transortation means is used by Malagasy of all kinds.
Book seats within taxi-brousse companies or associations in Tana. Be careful to book in advance since this is a really sought-after means (cheaper, adventure). It's quite strange but they are professional (on time, in contrary of other services). Taxi-brousses are often cars like a sedan with 8-9 seats or vans.
OR, rent a sedan car with a chauffeur-guide who will show you around cities. This was our choice to travel from Center to South of Madagascar.
In Tana, book your seats at taxi-brousses station in Anosibe. This station is dealing with roadtrips to Southern parts (Antsirabe, Fianarantsoa, Toliara, Taolagnaro, Morondava..). I think departures would be there as well.
Antananarivo-Antsirabe: 170 km.
Fare (on Feb 2006): 5000 Ariary for a leg of Tana-Antsirabe (2.5 euro or a bit less, quite the same amount in USD). Know however that this fare uses to treble during Xmas-NY season... to the detriment of passengers !! This has reportedly been so for 20 years !!
PS: Tip applies for travelling AROUND as well.
Pousse-pousse is THE transportation around the town. But one day they had races through the city center. Quite a good crowd watching, and the races ended at the boulevard park, which seems to be the hangout for idle drivers, and young people in general. There are few motor vehicles on the city streets, so people walk in the wonderful wide boulevards.