The Uganda Railway – Part 23 – Locomotives and Rolling Stock – Part A (1896 to 1926)

The featured image shows a busy Nairobi Railway Station from above.

To finish my series of posts about the Uganda Railway, I want to focus on the locomotives and rolling stock on the network.

It was my intention, before starting this exercise to cover all locomotives and rolling stock in a single blog post. As I began to review the available information in books and on the internet, it seemed that there was enough material to justify more than one post. This and the following posts will not be fully comprehensive in nature but I hope that they provide some insights that are valuable.

Probably, along with many other people, my attention is primarily drawn to the Garratt locomotives on these lines. However, I will attempt to reflect the full range of motive power and rolling stock on the line, references are given where ever possible. Everything in this first post predates the arrival of the Garratt locomotives.

Early Locomotives on the Uganda Railway (1896-1926)

At first, all locomotives were imported secondhand from India and it may have been this fact that proved decisive in determining the track-gauge for the line. On 11th December 1895, George Whitehouse arrived at Mombasa with the mandate of the Uganda Railway Committee in London to build the “Lunatic line”. He was a veteran of railway building having served as Chief Engineer in Mexico, South Africa,South America and in India. The first rails were laid at Kilindini on 30th May 1896. [1] The first two locomotives arrived from India in May 1896. They were designated ‘A’ Class and were built in 1871/72 by Dubs of Glasgow for the Indian State Railways.

I was fortunate enough in 1994, to find a copy of Kevin Patience’s book, “Steam in East Africa,” in a Nairobi bookshop. This book was published in 1976 by Heinemann Educational Books (E.A.) Ltd in Nairobi. Some of the pictures below are taken from this book.‘A’ Class Locomotive imported from India in May 1896. [2]

The first two imports worked between Kilindini and the assembly yard at Mombasa. They were officially retired in 1903 but there are reports of one still working in 1917. [2]Two ‘E’ Class locos (as above) built in 1878 arrived from India in June 1896, along with six secondhand  ‘N’ Class locos. The ‘E’ Class locos worked up to the rail-head until George Whitehouse imported new ‘F’ Class steam locomotives in September 1896. [2]Steam Engines being unloaded at Mombasa docks, © Nigel Pavitt. [3] The picture here is of a Garratt boiler being unloaded, probably in the late 1920s.Erecting ‘N’ Class locos at Kilindini in 1896. A further 20 secondhand ‘N’ Class locomotives were imported from India and remained in service until 1931. [2]Between 1896 and 1898, 34 new ‘F’ Class locos were delivered from Britain by Kitson of Leeds, Neilson Reid of Glasgow and the Vulcan Foundry of Lancashire. [1] The ‘F’ Class loco above is shown with a supply train at Maji ya Chumvi. These new ‘F’ Class locos were the first new locomotives bought for the line and were based on the older ‘F’ Class Indian Railway locos. [2]Torrential rain held up construction work for 22 days at Mazeras in November 1896. The rain caused subsidence and derailments. [2]Similar problems arose near Maji ya Chumvi in May 1897 when 24 inches of rain fell. This mishap involved another ‘F’ Class loco and 23 days of work was lost while repairs were made to embankments and bridges. [2]When the railhead reached Voi a triangle was installed which allowed the locomotives to turn to head back to Mombasa. I am not sure whether the locos shown in the image above are ‘N’ Class or ‘F’ Class. [3]‘F’ Class Loco on Tsavo River Bridge. [2]An ‘N’ Class Loco with water train near Nairobi during construction of the line. in 1897/8 no supplies for locomotives were shipped from the UK because of industrial action in the UK factories. These older Indian ‘N’ Class locomotives kept construction on track during a crucial phase of the project. [2]

The UK strike in the locomotive industry in 1897/8 caused a complete cessation of supplies of spares and new locos. Once the UK strike was over, it would have been reasonable to expect that new locos and supplies would reach East Africa from the UK. However, the high demand within the UK meant that the companies involved could not prioritise work abroad and it quickly became evident that motive power would have to be found from a different source. The Uganda Railway Committee turned to the American market and purchased 36 locos of 2-6-0 wheel arrangement.Thirty-six new 2-6-0 locomotives  were imported from the US by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia in 1899 and 1900. This became the “B” class of UR. [2] I cannot ascertain the location of the image above, however, the image below is taken at Nairobi Station. The early station building is evident.The “F” class locomotive weighed 30 tons and her tender could carry 1,500 gallons of water. The “B” class weight 25 tons and carried the same amount of water as the “F” class. Both the locos were coal burning (the coal was imported from South Africa). Wood fuel replaced coal in 1903 as it was less expensive and readily available. However, it produced more smoke than coal. UR administration ensured plantations of eucalyptus and other fast- growing trees were established to provide wood fuel for locomotives. [1]During the construction of the line it was necessary to make provision for work to continue across the Rift Valley floor while a difficult task of constructing the route down the escarpment took place. At the end of September 1899, the rail-head had reached the eastern escarpment of the Rift Valley (7,500ft above sea-level). [2]

An Incline was built to move construction materials to the valley floor, two sections of the incline were set at 45 degrees, special cars had to be constructed to carry equipment and in particular locomotives. The incline opened in May 1900 and remained in use until November 1901. Use of the incline advanced the rail-head westward by 170 miles while the line down the escarpment was being built. The pictures immediately adjacent, above and below show the top of the escarpment and two images of a locomotive being lowered to the valley floor. [2]One of the  temporary trellis viaducts being crossed by an ‘N’ Class Loco near Elburgon in 1900. [2]An ‘F’ Class Loco narrowly misses  R. O. Preston on the trip up the line on the Mau Escarpment during the building of the line. [2]These locomotives had a short life on the network. Eighteen were supplied in 1913. They were 0-6-6-0 Mallet ‘MT’ Class Locomotives. Disappointing performance and high maintenance costs led to them being relegated to secondary duties and eventually being scrapped in 1926 as the Beyer Garratt locomotive began to arrive. [2] Their presence on the system was heralded by, “Railway Wonders of the World,” with the picture shown below. [13]Nasmyth-Wilson supplied eight of these 2-6-4T ‘EE’ later Class 10 locos to the railway in 1913 and 1914. They gave good service right up to their due date for replacement in 1939. The outbreak of the Second World War kept them in service and eventually they were not withdrawn until 1965! [2]No. 1003 (393) on display at Jamhuri Park, (c) Kevin Patience. [5]In 1925, the Vulcan Foundry shipped two lots of 2-6-2T locomotives (as above) to the Uganda Railway. One batch of 6 locomotives of which the photograph below is the official Vulcan Foundry works photo. [6]The second batch included 15 locomotives of the same wheel arrangement, of which, the locos in the photographs below may be examples. The first, photographed in East Africa and perhaps in the 1930s. [7] The second, also in East Africa but taken at around the beginning of 21st Century at Nairobi Railway Museum.The Nairobi Railway Museum brochure says that this was the last saturated steam locomotive class used by the railway. Experiments in the 1920s showed that super-heated steam was far more efficient. Originally used for shunting, they were often to be seen hauling branch line traffic, (c) Hawknose Harlequin. [11]The UR GB class, known later as the UR / KUR ‘EB1’ class, and later still as part of the EAR 22 class, was a class of 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) gauge 4-8-0 steam locomotives built by North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow, Scotland, for the Uganda Railway (UR). [8] The design of the GB class was based upon that of the earlier UR G class. The 34 members of the GB class entered service on the UR in 1919, and continued in service after the UR was renamed the Kenya-Uganda Railway (KUR) in 1926. Some of them were in service long enough to be also operated by the KUR’s successor, the East African Railways (EAR) as part of its 22 class, from 1948 until the last ones were withdrawn in 1964. [9][10]This picture is taken on the mainline extension to Uganda at Eldoret it shows an ‘EB1’ Cl;ass Locomotive. This 4-8-0 design proved to be very successful on East African lines and further versions of the 4-8-0 were produced – the ‘EB2’ and ‘EB3’ class.Two ‘EB2’ Class Locos were introduced in 1919 – these were super-heated locos. The trials undertaken with the ‘EB2’s (URGC Class) were a great success and in 1923, the first of many ‘EB3’ locomotives arrived.The two GC class locomotives were heavily worked as trial engines, and then written off in 1934 after proving the value of super-heating. [12]An early locomotive on display in a relatively dilapidated state at Nairobi Railway Museum in 1994. The plate at the back of the tender shows No.301 which suggests that it is a Tanganyika Railway locomotive of the Class ‘EB3’ which might later have been EAR&H Class 23 No. 2302.Another early locomotive on display in a refurbished state at Nairobi Railway Museum in the early 21st Century. Incidentally, these two pictures do not show the same locomotive, careful review of the two pictures will reveal the differences between the two! [4] The loco immediately above is shown below, first in an early picture from the Railway Museum, (c) Thomas Kautzor, [5] and then in 2005 in a refurbished state shown in the second picture. The locomotive concerned was originally numbered No. 173, then No. 2412 and then No.2401.The original Class 24  No. 2401 sits in a forlorn state at Tororo Railway Station in the mid-1980s, © torgormaig on the National Preservation Forum. [15]

The locomotive No. 301 in the earlier picture is shown in the next two shots below during and after refurbishment, and repainting, lettering and numbering. [5]It is likely that No. 301 actually became EAR No. 2302 as No. 300 became EAR No. 2301.

Further examples of Class ‘EB3’ were shipped to Kenya in 1923 from the Vulcan Foundry – No. 162 below is pictured at their works. No 170, below No. 162, is shown in Kenya, it was later numbered 2409 which means that No. 162 became No. 2401, although No. 173 eventually took over the No. 2401 (after first being number 2412).No. 177 above will have become Class 24 No. 2416. [5]Another loco of the same Class (EB3) found on a trawl of the internet. [14] Once renumbered to Class 24, the numbering ran from No. 2401 to No. 2462.

My original intention was to post a single post on locomotive and rolling stock. I anticipate that this is the first, now, of 3 or 4 posts. The next post will start with locomotives used by the Kenya-Uganda Railway which took over from the Uganda Railway in 1926/27.


  1., accessed on 13th June 2018.
  2. Kevin Patience; Steam in East Africa; Heinemann Educational Books (E.A.) Ltd., Nairobi, 1976.
  3., accessed on 19th May 2018.
  4., accessed on 12th June 2018.
  5., accessed on 15th June 2018.
  6., accessed on 16th June 2018.
  7., accessed on 16th June 2018.
  8., accessed on 16th June 2018.
  9. Roel Ramaer; Steam Locomotives of the East African Railways; David & Charles Locomotive Studies. Newton Abbot, Devon, UK, 1974, p42-44.
  10., accessed on 16th June 2018.
  11., accessed on 16th June 2018.
  12., accessed 17th June 2016.
  13., accessed on 1st June 2018.
  14., accessed on 17th June 2018.
  15., accessed on 15th June 2018.





4 thoughts on “The Uganda Railway – Part 23 – Locomotives and Rolling Stock – Part A (1896 to 1926)

  1. Peter James

    Excellent Roger. Can I make a couple of observations though.

    The third photo, of a loco being unloaded at Mombasa shows the boiler unit of a Garratt, probably around 1928-30, and not pre-1926.

    Then you refer to Tanganyika Railway No.301 in the Museum as being ex EAR No 2301. It is in fact No 2302 (TR No 300 became EAR No 2301)


  2. Pingback: Uganda Railways – Part 25 – Locomotives and Rolling Stock – Part C (Steam – 1948 to 1977) | Roger Farnworth

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