"They were building a railway"
Building a bridge for the Cataracts Railroad (1897)
Public Domain'Building a bridge for the Cataracts Railroad' (1897) - Credit: Henry Wellington Wack

When Conrad first arrived at Matadi on 13 June 1890, work was just beginning on the construction of the railway line that would connect the port town to Leopoldville and Stanley Pool. The railway was needed since the Livingstone Falls rendered the river unnavigable for 300 km, meaning cargo had to be transported by human bearers. This was not only inefficient but often fatal.

Work on the railway bed at Matadi began around two months before Conrad's arrival, with the first rails and sleepers shipped there aboard the Ville de Maceio on the same voyage that Conrad took. Due to be completed by 1894, the railway was not actually finished until 1898.