2020-2022: Railway News from Uganda

A New Book about the Railways of Uganda

Over lockdown, I played a very small part in the production of a new book about the railways of Uganda. As a result, I was sent a free copy of that book, “Our Railways. Our History.”

The book tells the story of the birth and growth of the railways, and includes terrific visual archives shared by custodians worldwide. It also includes recent oral histories celebrating the very unique people and skill-sets that worked the rails. https://www.plantain.me/uganda-railway-history

Early in 2021, the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) alongside a number of partners sought to capture the history of Uganda’s railways in a high quality, large format book. This book was published by Plantain (plantain.me) [1]

Uganda Railway Museum

On 16th March 2022 Uganda Railway Museum formally opened its doors to the public. Reports appeared in a variety of different sources. This is one example: https://www.muzungubloguganda.com/travel/uganda-railway-museum-jinja/

The Uganda Railway Museum is located in Jinja, close to the Railway Station. [7]
Our Railways, Our History: details of the Uganda Railway Museum. [8]

The National Railway Museum (York)

On the 50th anniversary of the Ugandan Asian expulsion order, Sophie Vohra and William Law look into the history of South Asian communities in East Africa and Britain, and how their paths have crossed with British owned and operated railways. The article is entitled: Beyond the ‘Lunatic Line’ Ugandan Asians and British Railways. It was published on 4th August 2022: https://blog.railwaymuseum.org.uk/tag/uganda/

3.6 trillion Uganda Shillings Uganda Railways Revamp To Spur Trade

In April 2022, David Mwanga wrote of the ambitious revamping exercise which the Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) has embarked on with the intention of fast-tracking development and spurring on regional trade. [9] it is also hoped that the planned 3.6 trillion Uganda Shillings ($1 billion) will open up mineral-rich regions, agricultural production and markets to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

Four fully refurbished locomotives from Grindrod Rail, South Africa were received in September 2021. The locomotives have a haulage capacity of between 750 to 1500 tons and will last between 35 to 40 years if recommended maintenance practices are followed. They have an axle load of 18 tons. [10]

The proposed programme of investment includes: [9]

  • The 42 billion Shillings investment in September 2021 in four new locomotives which would operate on the line between the Kenyan border at Malaba and Kampala. It seems these locomotives have already contributed to a reduction in journey times from 24 hours to 11 hours. [10]
  • A reduction in tariffs of 50%.
  • A re-launch of cargo services between Dar-es-Salaam Port and Kampala following a more than decade period of dormancy.
  • A ferry service (MV Pamba) plying between Mwanza and Port Bell. This service has already reduced transit times between Dar-es-Salaam and Port Bell to 18 hours. By road the journey takes 3 days! It has reduced a traders costs from $35 per ton to $20 per ton. This has now been further subsidised for exports to $12 per ton. This supplements the service already provided by MV Kaawa.
  • Refurbishment of the rail link between Tororo and Gulu (costing 75 million Euros) which was already underway in April 2022 and should be completed by the end of 2023.
  • Renewal of the Gulu to Pakwach line ($100 million) and the Kampala to Kasese line ($400 million) with work expected to commence in the later half of the 2020s.
  • A 28 million Euro project supported by Spain to develop a passenger train service to operate between Kampala and Mukono.
  • Services between Kampala and Port Bell and Kampala and Kyengera funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB)
  • Within 10 years a Light Railway network for Kampala, the Kampala Metro (Greater Kampala Light Rail) [11] This will be a joint enterprise between Kampala City Council Authority and the URC.
  • An allowance of 50 billion Shillings to cover compensation to what the government and the URC term ‘encroachers’ onto railway land (thought to be around 20,000 people) with the intention of having historic railway land vacated during 2022. (Please note the item below about the human cost of railway development.)
  • A planned process of renewal of wagons, carriages and locomotives which have essentially been idle for 15 years
  • Automation of technology, development of skills and management to ensure best practice across the railway network.

The Human Cost of Revamping Uganda’s Railway Line

We have noted above that officials want to revitalize the country’s ailing railway system. But it seems that it might come at a cost for the people who live in the way.

A report from the Global Press Journal talks of the extensive repairs necessary as a result of the railways falling into a serious state of disrepair. Only 330 kilometers (205 miles) of the 1,266 kilometers (787 miles) of the network’s lines were operational as of 2019. But it seems clear that without the land next to the rail network cleared of people who have set up home, many of the planned upgrades can’t go ahead. [2]

It seems that many people paid good money to purchase land from Uganda’s railways but that the necessary paper did not follow their purchases. There are a number of people who are facing eviction from the land that they believe they own. Kichoncho Scovia is one example, she has lived on railway land in Kiswa parish for more than 14 years but now faces eviction. She says: “I bought this land from Uganda railway staff for 2 million Ugandan shillings [$565], which took me seven years to save. Since 2014, we have been told our purchases are not valid and we are not entitled to refunds.” [2]

Joel Ssenyonyi, a member of Parliament and chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee for the Parliament of Uganda, which scrutinizes the financial expenditures of the government, is heading an investigation into the land sales. He says 69.5 billion shillings ($19.6 million) worth of land belonging to the railway corporation was sold but “not a single coin has gone into the account of URC.” [2]

The government has provided equivalent support to the Uganda Railway Corporation (URC) which it believes covers the Corporation for any missing finances. [2] However, the issue of appropriate compensation for those living on what was railway land remains unresolved.

In 2021, 14,000 people living on land owned by the railway corporation were given six months’ notice to leave. After just 5,000 people left, the eviction deadline was extended to 31st March 2022, because the government didn’t have the 40 billion Ugandan shillings ($11.3 million) required to compensate those who do have the necessary documentation to prove they bought the land. [2]

Refurbishment of Metre-gauge Railways in Uganda

Work is ongoing to improve the condition of the old metre-gauge lines in Uganda. The Uganda Ministry of Works & Transport reports relatively regularly on Facebook about work which is being undertaken. [3]

On 20th August 2022, the Minister for Works and Transport, Hon.Gen. Katumba Wamala and the Director of Transport, Benon Kajuna inspected the rehabilitation works of the Tororo-Kampala Metre-gauge line being undertaken by the China Road & Bridge Corporation (CRBC) & The National Enterprise Corporation (NEC). On that date, 65% of the construction works complete. A completion date of October 2022 was re-affirmed. [4]

The Director of Transport, Benon Kajuna, explained that the metre-gauge railway rehabilitation will increase the cargo tonnage carried by rail to at least 60,000 tons/month. The government were, at that time, negotiating with the African Development Bank, for funding to procure more locomotives, wagons and coaches to move cargo from Kisumu, Mwanza to Port Bell. [5]

In addition to the improvement works on the Tororo-Kampala line, work is now complete on the Gulu Logistics Hub. The hub will serve as a consolidation center for cargo to be moved by rail. A crucial component for growth in Northern Uganda. [6]

The Gulu Logistics Hub which was completed in May 2022. [6]

Greater Kampala Light Rail

Greater Kampala Light Rail will be a Chinese-built light rail rapid transport system. A memorandum of agreement was signed between the Chinese and Ugandan governments in 2015 covering its planned construction. [11][12]

At a cost of 1.5 trillion Uganda Shillings ($440 million), the initial 35-kilometre stretch which shall be constructed by China Civil Engineering Construction Cooperation is aimed at de-congesting traffic in the country’s capital and surrounding areas. [12]

It is envisaged that the 35km first phase will eventually be extended to a route length of 240km including:

  • Kampala-Namanve via Nakawa, Kinawataka, Banda, Kireka and Bweyogerere (12 km east);
  • Kampala-Lubowa via Kibuye, Najjanankumbi and Zana (7 km);
  • Kampala-Kyengera via Katwe, Kibuye, Ndeeba, Nalukolongo and Natete (7 km);
  • Kampala-Kawempe via City Square, Buganda Road, Wandegeya, Mulago, Kubbiri and Bwaise (9 km north).

Ultimately the lines will extend to: Entebbe (37 km southwest); Nsangi (20 km west); Wakiso (20 km) and other surrounding towns. [11]

References

1. https://www.plantain.me/uganda-railway-history, accessed on 8th September 2022.

2. https://globalpressjournal.com/africa/uganda/human-cost-revamping-ugandas-railway-line, accessed on 8th September 2022.

3. https://www.facebook.com/MoWT.UG, accessed on 8th September 2022.

4. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid0CCNj2NJHvVbpswcssGRLiSw2aN2fahKyNRRdTHbA3tnmqXF8WdGxkR9p277nGCqyl&id=100068231353818, accessed on 8th September 2022.

5. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid02u23rCDh9PFCa6PxbhHARJQj9N6pTQkQVqxMu1hky898uReaodyMrFheLmS8s62Pil&id=100068231353818, accessed on 8th September 2022.

6. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid0H7rHg9BAgP77prHUeAFts6X1Kc697XRkUus4Y5QiUtHX9HqUj8Gm3sD9mdFSufcNl&id=100068231353818, accessed on 8th September 2022.

7. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid0aFzPM2XbdUodo8m71JTXomyFrr81q75fdB73Gh8jM56R8FGRfCCTnkxWtp38sRLtl&id=100069204730052, accessed on 8th September 2022.

8. https://www.facebook.com/349298391884294/posts/pfbid02LtpGjGX8dUgDHygb3dxD5iioYR3HybKEfKQEYdNH9vovHHqNQTE85NwiMWc4FCx2l, accessed on 8th September 2022.

9. https://www.busiweek.com/ugx-3-6t-uganda-railways-revamp-to-spur-trade, accessed on 8th September 2022.

10. https://www.independent.co.ug/uganda-railways-receives-4-locomotives, accessed on 8th September 2022.

11. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_Kampala_Light_Rail, accessed on 9th September 2022.

12. https://eturbonews.com/uganda-modern-light-railway-transport-system-kampala, accessed on 9th September 2022.

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