Nowadays getting to Atbara is quite easy as there is a new tarmac road from Khartoum which takes about 4 hours. Unfortunately it is also used by heavy lorries bringing goods from Port Sudan to Khartoum, which can slow things a lot. In the past Atbara was the main place for the railway- either going north to Halfa, or east to Port Sudan, but it has lost its importance now. The British built a bridge across the river Atbara which catered for both the railway and cars. Now the lorries are coming from Port Sudan a new bridge is being built.
When travelling from the north of Sudan you have to take a ferry boat from Ed Damer to Atbara.Or there are smaller boats taking passengers only.
As with most ferries in Sudan the slope down the river bank is steep and we had to reverse down onto the boat, and then come off facing the steep slope up. We shared the ferry with passengers, livestock , a donkey cart piled high with sacks, and other cars.
There are larger ferries for the lorries travelling to the cement factories.
The trip across takes a few minutes- my husband said 15, but I'm sure it was less. the ticket cost 10 SDG for the car and passengers.
But when the new bridge is completed , the ferry will become obsolete.
In the past the only easy way to get from Khartoum to Port Sudan was by rail via Atbara. Atbara was the HQ for the Sudan Railways Corp. The original rail system was laid by the British, and they made the bridge across the Atbara River which is still in use today for rail , road and pedestrians. However, the bridge is narrow and a new bridge is under construction.
The railway still is necessary for taking goods to and from Port Sudan although there are now highways.
The railways are now longer so important and so Atbara has lost its status. Trains still travel to Port Sudan and up to Wadi Halfa in the north to the Egyptian border.
As we got off the ferry between El Damer and Atbara we were lucky to see a train on its journey
By private transport: Easy! Whether approaching from north or south, just follow the road running close to the Nile.
By bus: Best place to catch a bus is from the northern bus station in Bahri (Khartoum North). There are not-too-crowded minibuses, as well as the usual assortment of trucks and Toyota pick-ups. Journey takes a few hours and will drop you off in the town centre, although it's not a particularly interesting or scenic route.
By train: With Atbara being the railway capital of Sudan I suppose it's only fitting that you arrive by train. I've never done it, but assume that the central station in Khartoum (south of Souk Arabi) can sort you out with information. From Atbara, trains continue on to Port Sudan and further north. Sudanese trains can be unbelievably slow - taking the train from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa, it's not unusual for it to arrive anything up to 2 whole days late.
Every two weeks, a rickety old train puffs its way from Port Sudan through the Red Sea Hills and the desert to Atbara, taking at least 18 hours. While there are 1st, 2nd and 3rd classes, tickets sell out fast, so we ended up with a patch of floor space in the 2nd class corridor. The train is painfully slow...in fact, you can jump off one of the front carriages, spend a penny in the desert, and hop back on the back carriages! Food is available en route at the many middle-of-nowhere stations, but don't expect culinary wonders. Often there are delays, due to cows or camels on the line, shifting sand, or the occasional rooftop passenger who rolls off in his sleep. However, many of the sunset and sunrise views are spectacular. It was certainly an experience, although I'd have to question whether it is one I'd like to repeat in the near future!