Uganda Railways – Part 22 – Jinja via Mbulamuti to Namasagali

There were two very early railway lines in Uganda. Port Bell to Kampala was one. The other was an earlier line from Jinja to Namasagali via Mbulamuti. We encountered this line as we travelled from Tororo to Jinja earlier in this series of posts. Indeed the original line from Tororo travelled to Mbulamuti to meet the older line from Jinja to Namasagali. At that time there was a good justification for this. Namagali was a significant point on an ‘overland’ journey from Mombasa to Cairo! Meeting the line from Jinja to Namasagali at its mid-pint allowed easy access to both significant destinations and beyond them to the Nile and to Lake Victoria.

Until the early sixties the main line from Jinja ran to Tororo via Mbulamuti which was the Junction for Namasagali. At one time it had been possible to travel in a through first class coach from Nairobi to Namasagali, the coach being detached at Mbulamuti and added to the 3rd Class service which ran from Jinja to Namasagali. By 1962 there is no mention of this service in the timetable, nor of sailings between Namasagali and Masindi Port.

We have already looked at the length of this line between Jinja and Mbulamuti in this series. The relevant link is:

https://rogerfarnworth.wordpress.com/2018/06/05/uganda-railways-part-18-tororo-to-jinja

So, we will begin this post by focussing on Mbulamuti.

Malcolm McCrow says that “Down Mail Trains (and School Trains) from Kampala used to arrive at Mbulamuti after dark having left Jinja some two hours previously. Perhaps a young schoolboy who had been given a multi-coloured torch at Christmas would play its beam on the station sign which read Mbulamuti for Namasagali but few of us schoolboys at that time had any idea of what exactly was the significance of Namasagali.” [1]

West-bound Mail Trains arrived at Mbulamuti in daylight and, as at most stations, it was possible to buy fruit and other food items from platform vendors, (c) Neville Webb. [1]

Mbulamuti was busy when trains stopped at the station. It is sad that all of this activity has ceased and that Mbulamuti no longer has a place on the country’s rail network.

In the image below a local goods train from Jinja pauses at Mbulamuti en route for Namasagali while Tribal Class 3110 Bakiga waits at the platform, (c) Neville Webb.

As we have already noted, the line south of Mbulamuti has been covered in another post. However, it is worth seeing the third monochrome picture in the adjacent sequence. In it a Class 24 heads a mixed passenger-freight train into Kakira, which was on the old line between Jinja and Mbulamuti, (c) EAR&H Magazine. [2]

In the satellite image below, the pink line represents the route of the old Tororo to Jinja line and the blue line represents the first part of the branch-line to Namasagali. The town of Mbulamuti is visible at the top of the image, left of centre. The station, in later years, was on the mainline. The branch, which was once the mainline, travelled to the south of the township and we will pick up its route on other satellite images and maps as we progress along the route. The map below is an extract from OpenStreetMap and shows the old mainline (in dark grey) and the branch (as a light-grey line to the northwest of Mbulamuti). The River is the Nile flowing north from Jinja.

The route from Mbulamuti starts from south of the town, travels up its east side and then meanders following the countours as much as possible towards Namasagali. The railway formation has been converted into a murram road which snakes through the landscape as shown ont he adjacent larger scale extract from OpenStreetMap. Mbulamuti is in the bottom right corner of the map.

The first class coach in the first monochrome picture above has now (below) been detached from the Mail Train and takes up position next to the caboose in the mixed traffic train for Namasagali where, as the sign says, passengers can join a steamer service which in these days connected with other steamers which in turn connected with yet other steamer and rail services which ultimately took passengers all the way to Cairo, (c) Neville Webb. [1]By 1962 the Busembatia-Kakira deviation had been completed and only 2nd and 3rd Class passenger trains (travelling over the old line) continued to call at Mbulamuti from where services to Namasagali had by 1962 been discontinued. A mixed traffic train with a through first class coach from Nairobi to Namasagali awaits departure from Mbulamuti prior to 1962, (c) Neville Webb. [1]The photographer is travelling on the mixed traffic train headed by a Class 31 between Mbulamuti and Namasagali, (c) Neville Webb. [1] The route continues to snake across the landscape, perhaps getting a little closer to the Victoria Nile until north of Lusenke. After this it follows a relative direct North-northwest route to Namasagali.Another Class 31 (this time in colour) heads a mixed traffic train as it arrives at Namasagali Station, (c) Neville Webb. [1]

Namasagali is shown in the adjacent satellite image. The route of the railway is shown as a road which is a straight line heading north-northwest alongside the river to a point approximately in the centre of the image. At this point the road turns to the west and the line of the railway continues north-northwest to what was the station and port area.

The site of the port and station is shown as a larger scale image below.

Namasagali was once a significant inland port. Not only did it provide for movement of freight but also for passenger travel in the interior of Africa. Tourism was  welcomed as an article in the East African Railways and Harbours Magazine makes clear. [4]

The author describes a tour of the heart of Africa which started on board the ‘Stanley and used a variety of differnt modes of transport to visit “Masindi Port on the western shore of Lake Kioga, … Butiaba on the eastern shore of Lake Albert, [a cruise up] Lake Albert and the Nile to see Murchison Falls, back down the Nile and across Lake Albert to Pakwach on the paddle steamer ‘Lugard II’ to Nimule, … backto Pakwach … Butiaba … Masindi Port … Namasagali and by train back top Nairobi. All in 10 days!” [4]

An interesting description of  the first arrival at Namasagali follows … “When we reached the ‘Stanley’ at Namasagali she was lying alongside the quay waiting to give us breakfast. These stern-wheelers have to be seen to be believed. They are reminiscent of the romantic Mississippi ships, but of course more modest. There is no champagne and caviar; no slick Northern style gamblers with their thin cheroots. But there is for the passengers a lazy old-fashioned air about the ship which sets the pace for the whole tour.” [4]The name board welcomes visitors to Namasagali Railway Station. [3]The Stanley. [4]The Stanley at Namasagali. [6] The three images above show another stern-wheeler, EAR& H steamer SW GRANT at Namasagali, (c) Neville Webb. The image below shows the same steamer en-route on the Victoria Nile. [3]A busy port scene at Namasagali, loading cotton (c) EAR&H. [2]The Stanley at Masindi Port taken 18th May 1929, (c) A. Weatherhead. [5]

References

  1. http://www.mccrow.org.uk/EastAfrica/EastAfricanRailways/Mbulamuti_Laropi.htm, accessed on 10th June 2018.
  2. http://mccrow.org.uk/EastAfrica/EastAfricanRailways/UgandaBranches.htm, accessed on 1st June 2018.
  3. https://ekitibwakyabuganda.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/railway-station-at-namasagali-where-from-people-took-the-ferry-1950s, accessed on 12th June 2018.
  4. http://www.energeticproductions.com/EARandH/Vol4-4.pdf, accessed on 12th June 2018.
  5. http://www.mccrow.org.uk/EastAfrica/1920s%20Uganda/1920s%20Uganda.htm, accessed on 12th June 2018.
  6. http://www.mccrow.org.uk/EastAfrica/EastAfricanRailways/EARAlanThompson/LakeSteamers.htm, accessed on 12th June 2018.

6 thoughts on “Uganda Railways – Part 22 – Jinja via Mbulamuti to Namasagali

  1. Simon Cameron Downie

    Hi Roger, a friend of mine has forwarded much Namasagali information you have archived. l have taught at Namasagali since 1975. My life in East Africa, mainly in Uganda, began in Tanganyika when I had a gap year 1962 to 1963 as an administrator in Muyenzi Camp for Rwandans, That was an experience I can never forget! One last point. Jon Snow wrote a book called Shooting History about his VSO year at Namasagali in 1968, when Rev. Father Damian Grimes MHM, MBE, was HM. Looking forward to your response. Cheers, Simon Downie.

    Reply
    1. Edgar Almeida

      HI Mr. Downie,
      Edgar Almeida here. I was a student at NC eons ago and am still thoroughly fascinated with the Pre-NC history of Namasagali Port. Would you happen to have any old images of the port or thoughts on the location of port infrastructure?
      Regards,
      Edgar Almeida

      Reply
    2. Edgar Almeida

      Hello Roger,
      Are you aware of any old photographs of port facilities such as the locomotive turntable, repair shops, staff facilities while it was operational? I’m really interested in the history of Namasagali Port prior to its closure caused by the River Nile flooding of the early 1960s.
      Any information will be deeply appreciated.
      Regards,
      Edgar Almeida

      Reply
      1. rogerfarnworth Post author

        Hi Edgar

        Sorry, I have put everything I found into my post. It might be that you know more than me and can ask better questions of search engines. There is a possibility that I ignored some pictures in my searches if they came up as ‘All rights reserved’ on sites such as Flickr and SmugMug, etc.

        Sorry not to be more help.

        Best wishes

        Roger

    1. rogerfarnworth Post author

      Hello Charles,

      The Namasgali link predates the main railway and was used by traffic from Jinja to access the wider network of rivers and lakes to the north.

      Best wishes

      Roger

      Reply

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