A Monorail in Kampala?

Charles Ewing who was based in India designed a monorail system. It was a single rail tramway arrangement. [1] His invention was a success. By 1899 a number of his design of lines had been laid in India. These included a twenty-two mile line at the Scottish firm of Messrs. Finlay, Muir and Co.’s tea estates in the Travancore Hills. [2]

In 1902, the Madras (now Chennai) Government approved the construction of a Ewing type monorail tramway in the environs of Madras, in the Chingleput (now Chengalpattu) District which was about 56km south west of madras. [3]

Ewing type monorail tramways became popular. In Patiala State, one connected Sunam to Patiala via Bhawanigarh. [4] An earlier line connected Sirhind to Morinda via Bassi and Alampur. [5] In the Punjab a line was constructed between Morinoa and Karar. [6] In Kerala, a similar monorail was constructed between Munnar and Top Station [13] in the Kundala Valley. [14]

Patiala State Monorail Trainways (PSMT) was a unique rail-guided, partially road-borne railway system running in Patiala from 1907 to 1927. [9]. PSMT was the second monorail system in India, after the Kundala Valley Railway [10] and the only operational locomotive-hauled railway system built using the Ewing System in the world. [11]. The Kundala Valley Railway pre-dated this, also using the Ewing system between 1902 and 1908, although this only used bullocks for haulage. Following the conversion of the Kundala Valley Railway from a monorail to a narrow gauge railway in 1908. [12] PSMT was the only monorail system in India until its closure in 1927.

Uganda – Of great interest to me, given my personal interest in the Country of Uganda, is the fact that Ewing’s system spread outside the sub-continent of India. “In 1907, Winston Churchill visited Uganda and discussed with the authorities ways of improving transport between Port Kampala, known then as Luzira, and Kampala town. Amongst those consulted was a Mr Watts who had experience of the Ewing system in India. The environment and transport needs were considered to be similar and the Ewing system was subsequently adopted.” [7][8] The rolling stock was pulled by bullocks throughout the majority of its life.There was however at least a trial of a steam locomotive on the line as a picture taken on, probably, 22nd April 1908 indicates. [17]

The short article in the ‘Uganda Journal’ in 1969. [8]

The Encyclopedia Britannica of 1911 notes the presence of the monorail between Kampala and the port: “Some 7.5 m. S. by E. of Kampala, and connected with it by monorail, is Kampala Port, on Victoria Nyanza.” [15]

It was a short-lived experiment, because by 1913 when a metre-gauge railway was being constructed, the monorail was not in a sufficiently usable state to serve as a construction line. [8]

Cambridge University Library has a small collection of items which relate to this ‘monorail’ these include:

A 85 x 78 mm view looking along the monorail track towards the jetties on the shore of the lake; [16] and

A 99 x 73 mm view showing the steam engine and carriages leaving Port Bell for Kampala. This ‘monorail’ was ordered (at a cost of about £3000) by Sir Henry Hesketh Bell and was intended for use until proper road and rail facilities could be established. The monorail was first tested on 22nd April 1908 and this photograph may well have been taken on its trial run. [17]


  1. Adrian S. Garner; Monorails of the 19th Century; Lightmoor Press, Lydney 2011; p226
  2. Ibid.; p227.
  3. Ibid.; p227.
  4. Ibid.; p230.
  5. Ibid.; p229.
  6. Ibid.; p233.
  7. Ibid.; p233.
  8. W.J. Peal & J. Crompton; ‘The Luzira-Kampala Monorail’; Uganda Journal, Volume 33, Part 1, 1969, p88-89; accessed via https://www.wdl.org/en/item/13781/view/1/96, on 27th February 2019.
  9. The Imperial Gazetteer of India. Volume 20, p44; accessed via https://dsal.uchicago.edu, on 27th February 2019.
  10. Mumbai gawks as train chugs overhead; https://m.telegraphindia.com/india/mumbai-gawks-as-train-chugs-overhead-september-start-on-track-for-indias-first-monorail/cid/332693#.UT3OENZgfSg, 19th February 2013, accessed on 27th February 2019.
  11. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patiala_State_Monorail_Trainways, quoting Cassell’s Railways of the World By Frederick Arthur Ambrose Talbot, 1924 edition; accessed on 28th February 2019.
  12. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patiala_State_Monorail_Trainways, quoting “Sands of Time” (PDF). Newsletter of Tata Central Archives. Tata. V (1): 5–6th January 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19th July 2008; accessed on 28th February 2019.
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top_Station, accessed on 28th February 2019.
  14. https://pazhayathu.blogspot.com/2009/11/1924-single-railmonorail-railway-at.html, accessed on 28th February 2019.
  15. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/Uganda, accessed on 28th February 2019.
  16. The Monorail from Port Bell to Kampala, 1906 – 1909, GBR/0115/RCS/Y3011G/5. Cambridge University Library. https://archivesearch.lib.cam.ac.uk/repositories/2/archival_objects/205595, accessed December 17, 2022.
  17. Tractor and monorail leaving Port Bell from Kampala, 1908-04-22, GBR/0115/RCS/Y3045C/18. Cambridge University Library. https://archivesearch.lib.cam.ac.uk/repositories/2/archival_objects/177108, accessed December 17, 2022.

4 thoughts on “A Monorail in Kampala?

  1. Thomas Kautzor

    Neil Robinson’s African atlas shows the Kampala-Luzira monorail as having operated from 1909 to c1912.

    In Africa, he also lists the well-known Lartigue monorail between Oran and Damesne (42 km) in Algeria and the Kanaka forest monorail in Mauritius.

  2. rogerfarnworth Post author

    Thanks Thomas. 🙂

    I’ve spent a bit of time reading about the Lartigue Monorails and highlighted them once again in a recent book review of Adrian Garner’s book. I was unaware of the Kanaka Forest monorail in Mauritius. Something for me to investigate.
    Might you be able to point me to some links to the story of that monorail?

    Best wishes


    1. Thomas Kautzor

      Hello Roger, I don’t know anything about it except for the mention in the atlas, with no further information except that it was freight-only.

      Best wishes, Thomas.

  3. Pingback: The West Clare revisited – Hyde Park Now

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