Uganda Railways – Part 15 – Malaba to Soroti Railway Station

We are at the border between Uganda and Kenya. The railways have been in a reasonable condition over much of our journey to Malaba. A few of the branch-lines have deteriorated badly and the ride along the main-line has not been all that smooth. Sadly, as we travel into Uganda, things get a lot worse.

First a map of the railway system. The system is entirely focussed on transporting, primarily, goods to the coast at Mombasa. Little thought has been given to providing a network of feeder railways for Uganda’s capital. All railways lead to Tororo rather than to Kampala.The map below shows the first length of the journey from the Kenyan border at Malaba to Tororo. At Tororo there is a major junction where the line to Kampala and Kasese diverged from the line to Arua.The first picture below  is taken from a Tororo-bound train in August 1971 and shows an Eastbound service waiting for the line out of Malaba into Kenya.[1]111466: Malaba Kenya Eastbound Goods 3144 Tharaka Taken from Westbound Mail, © Weston Langford. [1]401461: near Tororo Uganda Mountain outcrop viewed from train, © Weston Langford. [1]111469: Tororo Station in Uganda, a passenger train for Pakwach behings a Class 60 Garratt No. 6023, © Weston Langford. [1] Tororo is the junction from the main line for the line to Arua and Pakwach East on the Upper Nile. Weston Langford had booked himself onto a tour train in August 1971 not long after the coup led by Idi Amin. He comments: “The tour party rode in carriages transferred from the Mail to the branch train. There was no sign of any immigration presence so the tour party repaired to the local police station where we were breezily told to report to the police at our first overnight stop. On the wall of the police station was a magazine page of a photo of the Queen and Commonwealth Heads of Government. It was stuck to the wall with sticky tape. The rest of that first day was a pleasant train ride through the African countryside. As far as Soroti the engine was a 60 class Garratt. The 60 class bore a striking resemblance to the South Australian 400 Class. From Soroti onwards the engine was a 24 Class 4-8-0.” [1]

Given that the first pictures I’ve found relate to a journey from Malaba to the North of Uganda, we will follow the branch-line first  and return to the route of my own, 1994, journey later. Suffice to say that , in 1994, we arrived at Tororo in the early hours, between 3am and 4am. I was awoken from my sleep at Malaba, supposedly for a passport and visa check which did not happen, and I was just beginning to settle again when we passed through Tororo in the dark on our way to Kampala.111470: Tororo Uganda Passenger for Pakwach 6023 and Shunter 1106, © Weston Langford. [1]The branch-line to the north of Uganda was closed for a very long time. In the 1970s, Idi Amin was influential in the break up of the east Afrian community and the transfer of the railway from the East African Railways and Harbours to the control of Uganda Railways. In subsequent years, tacks were stolen for steel, engines broke down and no spare parts were available, and the railways became so unreliable that they were effectively useless. [2] There was a brief period in the 1990s when some semblance of proper services were restored but ultimately to no avail.

The picture above shows the first train for many years to run along the route we are about to take. The image shows the train in Tororo preparing to run along the branch through Soroti. The journey took place on 14th September 2013. [3] Rift Valley Railways were responsible for the network at that time. As well as improving transport links to northern Uganda, the line provides a regional railhead for South Sudan and eastern DR Congo. The study of the feasibility of undertaking the refurbishment was undertaken at the behest of the Delegation of the European Union to Uganda [9]

Tororo Railway Station. [4]

This is a short video about the opening of the branch-line. The work was done before considering the work necessary on the mainline.

The two following images from The Transport Library show diesels at Tororo in 1971. [5]Class 1-CO-CO-1 Diesel No. 8729 © Charles Gordon-Stewart.
Class 1-Bo-Bo-1 Diesel No. 7102 © Charles Gordon-Stewart.The three images of Tororo Station above come from a report by Dr R Choudhuri. [7]Tororo Yard in 2014. [8]The northern branch (above) left the mainline immediately to the west of Tororo. The western end of Tororo Station Yard, the right-hand track heads off up the branch we are following. [10]Level Crossing close to Tororo.

The branch travelled through or close to Mukuju, Apokori and Muliri before the halt at Mogades. close to Molo. [10]It then travelled via Lwaboba, Bumasikye, and Naukuma Village before passing through the second halt on the line at Manafwa, [10] before crossing the Manafura River about 2/3rds of the way to Mbale.After crossing the river the line travelled near or through Mudodo Village, Bungokho, Bugema and Mukanga Centers before arriving at Mbale. It appears from a survey of the line that no station facilites were provided between Tororo and Mbale, a distance of about 50 kilometres. A map of Mbale, showing the location of the station is followed by a satellite image of the station site.A recently repainted Mbale Station sign in 2004, © Iain Mulligan. [6]111474: Mbale, Uganda a Northwest-bound Passenger Service behind Class 60 Garratt No. 6023, © Weston Langford. [1]

Immediately after Mbale Station, the railway turns north and crosses the Namatala River. En-route to Soroti the line passed through Kachumbala, Bukedea, Kumi and Okungulu. The locations of these stations are shown in satellite views and map below.Kachumbala

Bukedea

A 60 Class with a passenger train at Bukedea, The train was booked to take four and a half hours from Tororo to Soroti where it was scheduled to arrive at 1205 before continuing on to Lira at 1400.  The booked time to Lira was  4 hours 40 minutes.No first class accommodation was available and the trains were scheduled to connect with the daily 2nd and 3rd Class only train between Eldoret and Kampala and vice versa, (c) EAR&H.

 

 

Kumi111480 and 111481: Two pictures taken at Kumi Station, Uganda of a Northwest-bound Passenger Train taken in August 1971 behind Class 60 Garratt No. 6023, © Weston Langford. [1]Okungulu (or Okunguru).

After Okungulu the railway crossed a swamp. The swamp sat alongside the Omunyari River which was bridges by a substantial girder bridge … In fact, a series of such bridges.[9][11] Bridges over the Omunyari River and Kapiri Swamp, [11] as seen in the satellite images below. The second image is a close up of the south side of the swamp shown in the first image.Just beyond the swamp we encounter Soroti Station, some distance from the town which gives it its name. The map below shows Soroti and the Kapiri Swamp but the rialway station is off the north of the map.111483: This picture was taken in August 1971 at Soroti Station, Uganda of a Northwest-bound Passenger Train taken in August 1971 behind Class 60 Garratt No. 6023. The train was taken over by No. 2431 in image 11484, below. Both pictures © Weston Langford. [1]

We finish this leg of our journey at Soroti Railway Station.

 

 

 

 

References

  1. http://www.westonlangford.com/images/gallery/four-days-in-uganda, accessed on 1st June 2018.
  2. https://theeye.co.ug/lunatic-express-potted-history-uganda-railway, accessed on 1st June 2018.
  3. http://www.railwaygazette.com/news/news/africa/single-view/view/ugandas-northern-line-reopens.html, accessed on 1st June 2018.
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tororo, accessed 21st May 2018.
  5. https://thetransportlibrary.co.uk, accessed on 1st June 2018.
  6. http://www.mccrow.org.uk/EastAfrica/EastAfricanRailways/EARIainMulligan/UgandaRailways2004.htm, accessed on 1st June 2018.
  7. http://pratclif.com/RC/ranjit-visit.html, accessed on 1st June 2018.
  8. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Uganda_railways_assessment_2010-2.jpg, accessed on 1st June 2018.
  9. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Uganda_railways_assessment_2010_-_Flickr_-_US_Army_Africa_(6).jpg, accessed 11th May 2018.
  10. http://www.works.go.ug/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/1604-Tororo-Pakwach_Consultancy_of_feasibility_Final%20Report_2016-10-18.pdf, accessed on 1st June 2018.
  11. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Uganda_railways_assessment_2010_-_Flickr_-_US_Army_Africa_(8).jpg, accessed 11th May 2018.

 

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