Category Archives: Africa

The Uganda Railway at the beginning of 20th century.

I recently picked up a copy of each of the two volumes of ‘Permanent Way‘ written by M.F. Hill and published in 1949. The first volume [1] is a history of ‘The Uganda Railway’ written in the 1940s when the railway company was known as ‘The Kenya and Uganda Railways and Harbours’ and published at the end of that decade under the jurisdiction of the new ‘East African Railways and Harbours’ which was formed to formally include the infrastructure in the modern country of Tanzania.

Hill’s first volume provides a detailed history of the Uganda Railway until just after the end of World War II. This article covers the period from the beginning of the 20th century up to WW1.

The railway was handed over to the administration of the East Africa Protectorate on 1st October 1903. [1: p236] Before that date, the line was in use  first, until 1901, primarily as a construction line. The period from the beginning of 1902 until 31st March 1903 was treated as one accounting year. In that first ‘year’, the working deficit of the line was £49.690. This figure excludes interest on the capital  cost of the line. [1: p236]

The actual capital cost was assessed as £5,502,592 which had been financed by annuities by HM Treasury. An annual payment of £319,112 [1: p242] serviced these annuities. When they were finally discharged in November 1925, the Uganda Railway had cost the British taxpayer just under £7,909,295. [1: p243]

In the years following its opening a working deficit was converted into a working profit. Yearly figures are provided by Hill within the narrative of following chapters of his book.

1903/1904       –      -£60,101      [1: p280]

1904/1905       –         £2,639      [1: p280]

1905/1906       –       £56,678      [1: p290]

1906/1907       –       £76,763      [1: p293]

1907/1908       –       £64,713      [1: p300]

1908/1909       –       £64,838      [1: p304]

1909/1910       –       figures not provided by Hill

1910/1911       –       £98,519      [1: p308]

1911/1912       –     £131,373      [1: p320]

1912/1913       –     £209,046      [1: p330]

1913/1914       –     £213,484      [1: p337]

Hill provides a snapshot of the situation on the Uganda Railway on 31st March 1905: “the staff of the railway consisted of 53 Europeans, 176 Eurasians, 1,254 Indians and 3,050 Africans. … The railway had 70 engines, 209 units of coaching stock and 947 units of good stock. The engines consisted of the 34 English-built Class F and 36 American-built Class B, which had all been used on construction.” [1: p290]

The profit margins quoted above were struck “without making provision for the renewal of wasting assets, without any charge for interest on the capital cost, and it accrued not to the railway, but to the Treasury of the East Africa Protectorate.” [1: p280] This was done so as to meet the debt owed to the British taxpayer both resulting from grant-aid and the loans made to cover the costs of building the railway. The grant-aid to the East Africa Protectorate was £2,843,383. The charge on the capital cost, as noted above, was £319,112 per annum. [1: p281]

Winston Churchill in 1907, taken in London close to the time of his African Safari. [4]

Winston Churchill visited Uganda in 1907. Speaking about that time he commented that the Uganda Railway was “one of the most romantic and wonderful railways in the world.” [2: p3]

He writes: “Short has been the life, many the vicissitudes, of the Uganda Railway. The adventurous enterprise of a Liberal Government, it was soon exposed, disowned, to the merciless criticism of its parents. Adopted as a cherished foundling by the Conservative party, it almost perished from mismanagement in their hands. Nearly ten thousand pounds a mile were expended upon its construction; and so eager were all parties to be done with it and its expense that, instead of pursuing its proper and natural route across the plateau to the deep waters of Port Victoria, it fell by the way into the shallow gulf of Kavirondo, lucky to get so far. It is easy to censure, it is impossible not to criticize, the administrative mistakes and miscalculations which tarnished and nearly marred a brilliant conception. But it is still more easy, as one traverses in forty-eight hours countries which ten years ago would have baffled the toilsome marches of many weeks, to underrate the difficulties in which unavoidable ignorance and astonishing conditions plunged the pioneers. The British art of “muddling through” is here seen in one of its finest expositions. Through everything—through the forests, through the ravines, 5through troops of marauding lions, through famine, through war, through five years of excoriating Parliamentary debate, muddled and marched the railway; and here at last, in some more or less effective fashion, is it arrived at its goal.” [2: p4-5]

On the Cow-catcher. (Mr. Currie, Mr. Marsh, Col. Wilson, Sir J. Hayes-Sadler, Mr. Churchill.) [2: p7]

Churchill continues: “The Uganda Railway is already doing what it was never expected within any reasonable period to do. It is paying its way. It is beginning to yield a profit—albeit a small profit—upon its capital charge. Projected solely as a political railway to reach Uganda, and to secure British predominance upon the Upper Nile, it has already achieved a commercial value. Instead of the annual deficits upon working expenses which were regularly anticipated by those most competent to judge, there is already a substantial profit of nearly eighty thousand pounds a year. And this is but the beginning, and an imperfect beginning; for at present the line is only a trunk, without its necessary limbs and feeders, without its deep-water head at Kilindini, without its full tale of steamers on the lake; above all, without its natural and necessary extension to the Albert Nyanza.” [2: p6]

Winston Churchill was clearly impressed with the line, in the state that he found it, in 1907.

It was under the tenure of Sir Percy Girouard as Governor that serious thought was first given to real development of the railway and other transport infrastructure – railway, roads, hospitals and schools, and agricultural, veterinary and social services. “The railway needed a deep water quay, or pier, at Kilindini, and branch lines to bring traffic from potentially productive areas, remote from the main line.” [1: p307]

Sir Percy decided that a branch line North from Nairobi through coffee and sisal plantations and on into Kikuyuland was needed, with the hope that later on it could be extended towards Mt. Kenya. This did not receive support from the Treasury until the plan was revised to request permission to build a ‘tramway’ thirty miles long from Nairobi to Thinks. [1: p307]

The Jinja Pier was built in 1912, it once served as the main export gate for Uganda. The the railway tracks can still be seen in the timber planking of the deck. [3]

Winston Churchill was a significant player in a decision to build a line from Jinja to Kakindi (the Busoga Railway) which was reviewed in 1911 as the port facilities developed were inadequate. A decision was taken to extend the line to Namasagali where better quay/port facilities could be developed. An amount of close to £170,000 was allowed for this line which could become a longer route to Lake Albert, a project put forward by Churchill which would have cost around £1.25 million. [1: p309-310]

Magadi Soda Works in 1994 (my photograph).

At a similar time, negotiations were ongoing with the Magadi Soda Company, a new venture, which was given a site at Kilindini to erect godowns and a pier for the storage and shipment of its products. The plan was to build a 106 mile branch line to Lake Magadi to permit economic transport of soda products to the coast. Capital of about £1.3 million was set aside for the whole project on the founding of the company. The Treasury agreed to £350,000 of expenditure on the mail line to upgrade buildings, locomotive fleet and rolling stock. [1: p311]

In order to expedite the development of facilities at Kilindini, the Railway took over responsibility for the port in August 1911.

In 1912 David Lloyd-George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, pushed a bill through parliament in the UK which allocated a loan £500,000 for the development of the port at Kilindini. In addition a series of smaller sums were agreed to cover the cost of: the line to Namasagali; the branch line to Thika; and the main line improvement to facilitate the branch to Lake Magadi. [1: p322]

However, the story of these years before the beginning of WW1 was one of inadequate stock and locomotives, with investment never quite keeping pace with demand. [1: p322ff]

In Uganda in 1912, “In addition to the loan of £170,000 for the building of the Busoga Railway, His Majesty’s Government granted a loan of £125,000 … for the improvement of communications in the Eastern province of the protectorate and the building of a short railway from Kampala to Port Bell on Lake Victoria.” [1: p327]

By March 1913, the Locomotive Superintendent reported: “With the power on order, there will be some 100 engines on the line, eighteen of which will be Mallet engines, equalling 36 ordinary type engines.” [1: p332] Of these Mallets, two were already in service and seemed, after some initial problems with the lack of familiarity of staff with the the locomotives, to be giving effective service. By the middle of 1913, eight Mallet engines had been delivered along with three further shunting engines.

The original Thika Railway tracks before the upgrading and refurbishment in the 21st century. [5]

Major Taylor, the General Manager, reported in March 1913, that the 6 mile long Port Bell railway was under construction and that the Thika line would be open to traffic by the end of October. [1: p333] His promise came to fruition with the opening of the line and in the same month a daily passenger service was inaugurated between Nairobi and Mombasa. [1: p337]

At the end of 1912, the Magadi Railway had reached Lake Magadi. However, it was not until 1914 that the Magadi Works was ready to start production. In the spring of the same year Parliament approved another loan to the East Africa Protectorate – a sum of £3 million of which £610,000 was allocated to Kilindini harbour, £957,000 to railway improvements. There remained £90,000 available from the previous loan associated with the harbour. This meant £700,000 could be spent on the renewed works at Kilindini. [1: p340-341]

Part of the main line improvement was the construction of 18 new crossing stations which would greatly increase the frequency of trains and the strengthening of bridges and viaducts to allow for a maxim.axle load of 15 tons. [1: p335, p337] Also of paramount importance was the strengthening of the rails from 50lb to 80lb and the replacememt of the sleepers with 109lb steel. The old 50lb rail was to be use for the branch lines. [1: p337]

By 1914, “the European population of the East Africa Protectorate was few more than 3,000. Of the 2,321 men of fighting age – including civil servants, missionaries and aliens – 1,987 served in the armed forces of the Crown, some for part of the war and some throughout the war.” [1: p342] The barest minimum of expatriates remained in the Protectorate throughout WW1.


  1. M.F. Hill; Permanent Way – The Story of the Kenya and Uganda Railway – Volume 1; Hazel, Watson & Viney Ltd, Aylesbury & London, 1949.
  2. Winston Churchill; My African Journey; William Briggs, Toronto, 1909.
  3., accessed on 26th December 2020.
  4. accessed on 26th December 2020.
  5., accessed on 26th December 2020.

Uganda at the end of 19th century and the events leading up to the construction of the Uganda Railway.

It has been some time since I last posted about the Uganda Railway. I have very recently picked up a copy of each of the two volumes of ‘Permanent Way’ written by M.F. Hill in 1949. The first volume [1] is a history of ‘The Uganda Railway’ written in the 1940s when the railway company was known as ‘The Kenya and Uganda Railways and Harbours’ and published at the end of that decade under the jurisdiction of the new ‘East African Railways and Harbours’ which was formed to formally include the infrastructure in the modern country of Tanzania.

In order to provide the context for the construction of the Uganda Railway, M.F. Hill saw it as imperative in his book to provide a social and economic history of the East African region. It is impossible for me to judge the veracity of what he writes, but it clearly is written from a British Colonial perspective. In addition to covering the strife between the European powers who sought to increase their influence in the Great  Lakes region of the continent of Africa, Hill provides extensive quotes from leading British figures in the region about the Uganda that they knew before the coming of the railway.

It must be acknowledged that the perspective is essentially that of those who were seeking to enhance British influence and eventually to establish Colonial rule, however, it also has to be said that these men (and it was always men) sought, within their own Colonial and paternalistic terms of reference, to be a benign civilizing force. The picture which develops, as one reads M.F. Hill’s book, is, on the one hand, one of competition for influence between Germany, Britain and to some extent, France and Belgium, but on the other hand, a significant and seemingly quite unhealthy competition between three main religious groups, Roman Catholics, Protestants and followers of Islam.

Within the sphere of the Buganda ‘nation’, the influence of the two forms of Christianity was very significant, with adherents to the Muslim faith being a significant minority. The conflict between these groups has to be seen as one of the major influences on the choices made by Colonial emissaries. Yes, there was also an urgent consideration of competition with Germany for control over the Great Lakes region but it is significant that much of the focus of those who were leaders in the development of the British sphere of influence seems to be on the internal tribal conflicts in the region which seemingly were fueled by the rivalry between Protest and Catholic leaders.

Sir Gerald Portal, who led an overland expedition to Uganda in the early months of 1893 at the insistence of the 5th Earl of Rosebery (Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the 4th Gladstone administration) commented in a despatch to Lord Rosebury on the situation he discovered on his arrival in Uganda in March 1893, “he emphasised both the evils of the native system of administration and the curse of the religious conflict which largely arose from political causes.” [1: p103]

The decisions being made about the possible/probable construction of ‘The Uganda Railway’  were equally focussed on the possibility of these tribal/faith conflicts flaring up as they were on firmly establishing British interests over-and-against those of Germany.

In this light, it is worth quoting directly from Hill who is himself predominantly quoting Portal:

Portal described Uganda as a ‘whited sepulchre’, and traced the country’s tragic story from the bloody despotism of Mutesa, and the early years of Mwanga’s reign, when the condition of Uganda had been scarcely rivalled by the horrible records of Dahomey.

“The form of government in Uganda,” he wrote, “is nominally a despotic monarchy, and in the days of the late Mutesa it was really so; but his successors, and notably the present King Mwanga, have been unable to maintain either the prestige or the power of the Crown. . . . At the time when I arrived, the whole population of Uganda was divided into three semi-religious parties, two of which acknowledge no authority on the part either of Mwanga or his Council. Uganda is divided into ten provinces, each of which is under the nominal governorship of a chief. Under these governors again are an immense number of minor chiefs, one below the other, in a complicated system of transmitted authority. . . . In theory, at first sight, this organisation would appear to be not a bad one; in practice, it has proved to be the cause of a vast system of oppression and robbery. The unfortunate peasantry are forced to toil for the support and glory of an immense number of useless and idle petty chieftains who would think it beneath their dignity to do a stroke of any sort of work from one end of the year to another. In recent times, even the small chiefs had powers of life and death over the peasants, and although this has been stopped, there can still be no doubt that cruelty and oppression in various forms are rife throughout the provinces. Economically, the present system is as bad a one as could be devised; certain taxes in kind have to be paid to the King from each province; these taxes are levied solely from the lowest classes, but as they have to pass through the hands of a long gradation of chiefs, the amount which ultimately reaches the King does not represent more than a fifth part of what has been paid by the villagers.”

Portal pointed out that this administrative system accounted for the importance attached by the Bishops and the political leaders of the opposing parties to the possession, on their side, of certain chieftainships or provincial governorships. The acceptance by a great chief of the Protestant creed might mean the addition of a thousand fighting men to the Protestant cause, whilst the appointment of a Catholic governor to the command of a province might mean that every chief, sub-chief and villager in the province had to make up his mind quickly between embracing the same faith, or being forthwith turned adrift and deprived of his house, dignity and position.

The miserable history of Uganda during the previous few years had shown how inextricably religion and politics were interwoven. The three great parties, Mohammedans, Catholics and Protestants, were nominally divided only by religious tenets, but in fact they were adverse and jealous political factions, two of which were led, to all intents and purposes, by European missionaries. [1: p103-104]

Portal went on to say:

“That the missionaries, on both sides, are the veritable political leaders of their respective factions there can be no doubt whatever. As regards the Catholics, Mgr. Hirth and the Fathers would probably be the first to admit this to be the case. On the Protestant side, it is not, I believe, admitted, but the fact unfortunately remains. . . . The present state of affairs is that the natives on both sides have acquired the habit of appealing to their respective missionaries on every possible question, whether it be a personal quarrel with one of the opposite faction, an assault case, an eviction from a plantation, a murder, a decree from the King, or a decision or order from Her Majesty’s Commissioner. There has thus grown up a sort of dual or even triple system of government, which adds very seriously to the difficulties of administration. It will from this be readily understood that the race for converts, now being carried on by the Catholics and Protestants in Uganda, is synonymous with a race for political power. To-day the Protestants are the strongest, and the most numerous, party; to-morrow a successful battle might place the Catholics in a dominant position and, in such case, that religion would gain on the second day many thousands of converts, from among those who are now reckoned as belonging to the Protestant party. Catholics and Protestants here seem to look upon each other as natural enemies; no doctrine of toleration, if it has been taught on either side, appears to have been received by the native Christians; the fear of English officers and of the Nubian soldiers at the Fort may keep them from overt acts of hostility towards one another while this control remains here, but as soon as it is withdrawn, the war of extermination will at once be renewed. It is this feeling which, through the introduction of the two forms of Christianity into Uganda, has cost so many hundreds of lives, and has thrown the country fifty years back in its advance towards prosperity. It is deeply to be regretted that the avowedly great influence of missionaries in Uganda is not used to introduce a spirit of tolerance and peace even at the risk of the loss to the party of some political power of a few wealthy chieftainships.” [1: p104]

Hill continues:

The Mohammedan party was weaker in numbers, wealth and arms than either of the two Christian parties. In the event of the withdrawal of British control, the strength of the Mohammedans lay in their power to hold the balance between the two Christian factions. When it became known that the Company proposed to withdraw from Uganda, overtures to the Mohammedans were made, almost simultaneously, by the Catholics and by the Protestants. Portal realised that the Mohammedan influence in Uganda was inevitably doomed. If civil war again broke out, whichever party gained the Mohammedans’ affiance would certainly win the day—and then turn upon and annihilate the allies who had assured their victory. If peace continued, the Mohammedan party would inevitably be wrecked on the same rock which destroyed the power of so many Mussulman states—that of slavery. [1: p104-105]

Mwanga II was kabaka in Buganda from 1884 – 1888 & 1889 – 1897. He died aged 34 or 35 in 1903. There are notes about his reign below the references at the end of this article.

In retrospect it seems as though there is ample evidence in the story told here for a rejection of all religious influence in matters of state/politics. However, the world is not such a simple place. Portal did not regard all the Christian converts in Uganda as animated solely by political or material motives. He knew that only “a proportion of the so-called Catholic and Protestant parties could truly be called Christians, but Christianity had undoubtedly gained a firm hold in the country. Mwanga’s persecutions, [2] a few years previously, had proved that there were a considerable number of sincere-Christians prepared to die for their faith.” [1: p105] In addition, politics is a descriptive term for all interactions between differing groups of people. Where people exist, politics will occur. It is to be sincerely regretted that denominational loyalties in the West were imported into the Great Lakes region of Africa in such a way as to promote conflict rather than tolerance and understanding! The level of trust between the principal Christian denominations was not high in Europe at this same time.

The primacy of religious leaders in the politics of the time meant that one of Portal’s first tasks was to seek an accommodation between Bishop Tucker, the Protestant Bishop of East Equatorial Africa and Mgr. Hirth, the Rpam Catholic Bishop of Thereste and Vicar Apostolic of Nyanza. Careful negotiation brought reluctant agreement to the partition of provinces between Catholic and Protestant factions.

On 8th April 1893, 40 Protestant Chiefs signed a statement agreeing to release all their slaves. On 29th May, Mwanga also signed an agreement which accepted British authority. On that same day, Portal left for the coast.

By late 1893, Portal’s health was failing and he made his last report to his masters in London before setting off for the UK himself, where he died very early in 1894. Much of the report had to do with the management of British interests in the Great Lakes region. As [part of that report he strongly recommended the building of a railway from the coast to Kikuyu, not to Lake Victoria Nyanza, but including a significant enhancement of the British fleet on the Lake. That report was considered, after his death, by Parliament in London.

In June 1894, the British government was still hedging its bets and not making a commitment to the construction of a railway, although a decision was taken to declare a Protectorate over Uganda. This move was proclaimed in Uganda in August 1894 and was heartily welcomed. A further Protectorate covering the area from Uganda to the coast was proclaimed in 1896 – the ‘East African Protectorate’.

The Report of the Committee on Railway Communication with Uganda was submitted in April 1895, by the end of June 1895, Lord Rosebery’s Government had fallen and the new Tory administration under Lord Salisbury lost no time in deciding that the railway should be built. It was seen as essential to the life of the Uganda Protectorate. Preliminary expense were granted in the sum of £20,000 in August 1895. And the decision was taken to construct the full length of the railway from the coast at Mombasa to Lake Victoria Nyanza – a distance of 650 miles. Through choosing a reduced gauge and a lighter rail, the cost estimate for the work was set at about £2,700 per mile – a reduction from £3,409 per mile in the early estimates of cost. However in April 1896, a Government committee recommended that the gauge should be increased to one metre and the rail weight restored to that originally recommended – 50lb per yard.

The engineering team arrived in Mombasa in late 1895 but the empowering Act was not to achieve its passage through Parliament until August 1896 with a budget of £3 million.

Earlier posts in my series on the Uganda Railway cover the line and its construction. That story starts with the following article on this site:

Hill continues with the story of the building of the line. [1: p139-244] Given that this series is meant to be primarily about the Uganda Railway, this article has been something of a diversion.

As I am an Anglican priest it seems worthwhile to me to  return to the religious issues mentioned above. These will, in due course, be the subject of a further article in this series.

To restore the balance in favour of the railway itself. I will finish this post with some images directly associated with the railway which come from the pages of Hill’s book. [1]

Sir George Whitehouse KCB., the first Chief Engineer and General Manager of the Uganda Railway. [1: facing p144]

Rope Inclines on the Eastern face of the Rift Valley during construction in March 1900. [1: facing p179]

Kilindini in 1900. [1: facing p208]

Nairobi Railway Station in 1900. [1: facing p228]

Nairobi in 1900. [1: facing p228]

Uganda Railway – Class G 0-4-2 steam locomotive Nr. 101 and passenger train (Hawthorn 1746/1878). This locomotive was a one-off import from India, ex South Indian Railway. This image was posted recently on a French language site associated with the LRPresse Magazine(s), rather than coming from Hill’s book [3]

British East Africa in 1910. The Uganda Railway from Mombasa to Victoria Nyanza. Also included on the LR Presse forum. [3]


  1. M.F. Hill; Permanent Way – The Story of the Kenya and Uganda Railway – Volume 1; Hazel, Watson & Viney Ltd, Aylesbry & London, 1949.
  2., accessed on 17th December 2020. Part of the text of this Wikipedia page is reproduced in italics below.
  3.; accessed on 19th December 2020.

Mwanga came to the throne at the age of 16. He increasingly regarded the greatest threat to his rule coming from the Christian missionaries who had gradually penetrated Buganda . His father had played-off the three religions, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims, against each other and thus balanced the influence of the European colonial powers that were backing each group in order to extend their reach into Africa. Mwanga II took a much more aggressive approach, expelling missionaries and insisting that Christian converts abandon their faith or face death. A year after becoming king he executed Yusufu Rugarama, Makko Kakumba, and Nuuwa Sserwanga, who had converted to Christianity. On 29th October 1885, he had the incoming archbishop James Hannington assassinated on the eastern border of his kingdom.

For Mwanga, the ultimate humiliation was the insolence he received from the (male) pages of his harem when they resisted his sexual advances. According to old tradition the king was the centre of power and authority, and he could dispense with any life as he felt. It was unheard of for mere pages to reject the wishes of a king. Given those conflicting values Mwanga was determined to rid his kingdom of the new teaching and its followers. Mwanga therefore precipitated a showdown in May 1886 by ordering converts in his court to choose between their new faith and complete obedience to his orders and kingdom.

It is believed that at least 30 Catholic and Protestant neophytes went to their deaths. Twenty-two of the men, who had converted to Catholicism, were burned alive at Namugongo in 1886 and later became known as the Uganda Martyrs. Among those executed were two Christians who held the court position of Master of the Pages, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe and Charles Lwanga. They had repeatedly defied the king by rescuing royal pages in their care from sexual exploitation by Mwanga which they believed contrary to Christian teaching.

These murders and Mwanga’s continued resistance alarmed the British, who backed a rebellion by Christian and Muslim groups who supported Mwanga’s half brother and defeated Mwanga at Mengo in 1888. Mwanga’s brother, Kiweewa Nnyonyintono, was elevated to the throne. He lasted exactly one month and was replaced on the throne by another brother, Kabaka Kalema Muguluma. However, Mwanga escaped and negotiated with the British. In exchange for handing over some of his sovereignty to the British East Africa Company, the British changed their backing to Mwanga, who swiftly removed Kalema from the throne in 1889. He later converted to Christianity and was baptised.

The Stinkwood Railway

The featured image above shows a  ‘Coffee Pot’ at work on the Stinkwood Line. Scratchboard/ Scraperboard Art by Solly Gutman, ‘The Colour of Black and White.’ [20]

I have been reading through old copies of the Railway Magazine from 1951. The 600th Edition of the Magazine was published in April 1951. A fascinating 2ft narrow gauge railway in South Africa is covered by a short article in the magazine and I have been doing a little research into the line.

The Railway Magazine now maintains an Archive of its past editions. Membership can be purchased as an addition to the annual subscription to the magazine itself. The article about the Stinkwood Railway is available through that archive.  [1]o

The line ran into the forest from the town of Knysna on the South Coast in the area known today as ‘The Garden Route’. It was used to bring felled Stinkwood timber to the port at Knysna.The line between George and Knysna was until 2009 the last remaining steam hauled mainline service in South Africa. There are renewed hopes that the service will open again provided major repairs are completed on the route. That line is shown schematically by the line of grey diamonds on the pictorial map above. [2] And can be seen on the Google Earth Satellite image below. This line was built some 20 years after the 2ft-gauge line into the forest.The railway from George approaches Knysna across the river estuary.The construction of the estuary bridge in the late 1920s. [21]The construction of the estuary bridge in the late 1920s. [23]Looking West along the river bank towards the estuary bridge. The image comes from Google Street view.Looking East towards the terminus in Knysna.The station approach.The station buildings.The station site viewed across the turntable from Waterfront Drive.Another view from Waterfront Drive which shows the station buildings and watertank.The line to the East of the railway station. The picture is taken on Gray Street looking East.Further East looking South across the lines from Waterfront Drive.Even further East, this time looking East from Waterfront Drive.Looking back to the West from Long Street.Looking East from the same point on Long Street. Long Street is the extension of the causeway from Thesen Island into Knysna and was the route of the old 2ft gauge line from Thesen Wharf to Knysna Station. 

The Stinkwood Railway, as the line is named in the Railway Magazine article, [1] was affectionately known locally as the Knysna ‘Coffee Pot’. It was owned and operated by the South Western Railway Co. Ltd and built over a period of three years from 1904 to 1907. [3] It ran from the pier-head in Knysna to Diepwalle in the forest and served for 42 years until its final closure on 30th April 1949. The story of the line as recorded locally is quite different from that in the introduction to the Railway Magazine article which suggests that the line was built around 1920 or thereabouts. One wonders whether R.A. Butler was misled.

The ‘Coffee Pot’ was also the nickname given to the locomotives with their cone-shaped chimneys that ran along the line. The pier-head was actually a government wharf (commonly known as Thesen’s Jetty) on Thesen Island. The line ran through the present-day suburbs of Costa Sarda and Old Place (alongside the Knysna Lagoon) and up to Brackenhill and Deep Walls (Diepwalle) in the Knysna forests. [4] It connected the port of Knysna with sawmills in the Tsitsikamma Forest and had a length of 31 kilometres. [5]

The Cape Colonial Government promulgated an act: the South Western Railway Co. Ltd. Act. (Act No. 16 of 1904), which provided a subsidy of £800 per mile for the construction, and stipulated various conditions. These included the gauge (2 feet or 600 millimetres), and that the quality of the construction materials had to be equal to that of the Government’s own narrow gauge lines. [4].

The company’s directors included local businessmen – these included the saw millers C.W. Thesen (who served as its chairperson for a thirty-five years) and George Parkes. The directors realised that ox-wagons (and Parke’s own steam-driven tractor  – which tended to get stuck in the mud on rainy days) – couldn’t meet the demand for timber and that a railway was required. [4] The Wikipedia article on the line says: “In the late 19th Century, during the Second Boer War the timber transport with the help of mules and oxen reached its capacity limit, as many mules and their drivers had been drafted into military service. The 1898 replacing attempt using a steam tractor failed because the machine sank in the muddy roads. For this reason it was decided to build a railway.” [5]

The railway was built between 1904 and 1907 by Carl Westveldt, a Swede, and on its completion, when Westveldt turned down the offer of the post, Mr H. Noren was appointed General Manager. [3][6] It was owned by local businessmen, Messrs. Thesen, Parkes (both named above), Templeman, Morgan, Noble, and others. [4] The railway cost £49 858 : 30% less than the estimate. That cost included compensation for land. All the materials were imported. “The financial position of the Company appeared to be secure enough : in 1913 the [Union] Government [1910] bought over £20 000 worth of the 5% debenture shares, in order to obtain controlling interest in the line. This 73% interest was the source of a certain amount of discontent at later dates, for the affairs of the Railways slowly slid onto the downgrade.”[16][17: p155]

Three Orenstein & Köppel side-tank locomotives (0-4-0T, 0-6-0T and 0-8-0T) providing the motive power. A fourth, British-built model was added in 1930. [4]

The 2ft. narrow gauge railway line transported timber (mostly Stinkwood [7] and Yellowwood [10]) from Diepwalle to Knysna for milling and shipment. It ran three times a week 22 miles (31 kilometres) into the forest, to Diepwalle and back. Spark arrestors were fitted on the engine to prevent forest fires and gave the engines their “coffee pot” look. They were fat, bulbous fittings over their funnels, hence the name. There were 33 trucks designed to carry up to 70 tons of logs.

In Knysna, the line linked Parkes’ Mill to Thesen’s the jetty. There were three stops in the forest, Bracken Hill, Parkes Station and Diepwalle (Deep Wall). The Knysna station was a little corrugated iron building with a pitched roof and lean-to’s on either side lined with wood on the inside. [4]

“The railway also afforded a wonderful means of entertaining visitors and for those who grew up in Knysna, the “Coffee Pot” was part of the holiday fun. Passengers were treated to very leisurely journeys – the train rarely exceeded 6 miles an hour, and beauty spots would be pointed out to the passengers along the way.” [4] If the weather was good, the passengers would sit on benches and chairs set up on an open carriage. The route ran from Knysna to Thesen’s Shop and Sawmill at Brackenhil; then to Parkes Station at Veldman’s Pad (where Mrs. Perks, the ‘Forest Fairy,’ ran a little trading store), and finally to J.H. Templeman’s sawmill at Templeman Station, Diepwalle. The Coffee Pot transported about 28,000 tons of timber a year, and its rolling stock covered about 349,400 miles in total – all without a single serious accident. [26]

The following comments in italics together with the pictures included within the text are taken from notes researched and compiled by Mrs Margaret Parkes & Mrs. V.R. Williams on “South Western Railway Co. Ltd.” on the website [6] The smaller photographs alongside the text in italics are courtesy of Millwood House Museum, Knysna, SANParks, Department of Forestry.

By 1911, the running costs of the railway were a constant worry to the Directors of the Company. There was a general depression in the timber industry, and the distance and costs of transport inhibited local prosperity. But there was a sudden wave of optimism with the discovery of deposits of lignite. The Knysna Lignite Syndicate was formed and hoped to be able to supply locally mined “brown coal” to fire the boilers of the ‘Coffee Pot’ engines. Hopes were high, but sadly, the quantity or quality was inadequate, and by mid-1911 the whole venture fell away.

In May 1916, Knysna was flooded after torrential rains. The flood not only washed away the brand-new concrete bridge over the Knysna river but also some of the railway bridges in the forest. In some places, tons of earth were washed away. Filling and repairs were started immediately and a mere month later, when the first train was again able to run to Diepwalle, approximately 16,368 tons of material had been excavated and deposited to replace what had been washed away.

The railway had to be put out of action during repairs which meant a further loss of revenue. It was a bad year for the Company with World War I and the loss of trade due to the reduction in the number of visiting ships at the port. Meanwhile maintenance and general repairs had to continue to keep the railway line in good order.

At last, in 1919, the Company made a profit! But unfortunately, in that same year the Government moved the sleeper factory from Knysna to Mossel Bay. This was a real blow as the railway would be used even less, with many a repercussion to the fragile economy of the town.

Throughout the 1920s’ and 30s’ maintenance costs and taxation took their toll and soon another engine had to be bought. The S.A.R. provided a 2nd-hand engine no longer required on the Umzinto line. The engine was in good condition and gave many years of service.

But in 1927 perhaps the most serious blow which fell was when the S.A.R. finally connected Knysna with George by the standard 3 ft.6 ins. gauge line and any hopes that they would eventually take over the forest railway were dashed as all narrow gauge lines were considered to be obsolete. Revenues from the wharf had also decreased dramatically as it became so much cheaper to bring goods to Knysna by train than by sea and shipping activities at the wharf died down with fewer ships coming into port.

Financial concerns over the company had still not abated.In 1944 a Committee from the S.A.R. & H. came to Knysna to examine and report on the state of the “Coffee Pot” railway with a view to closing it down. Corrosion was very bad on the line and “broken rails” were likely to become a major problem, and it had already been stated the line would carry no more passengers. Although the S.A.R. & H. recommended closing down the railway due to the deterioration of the line, they were forced to keep it going at least temporarily, because of the shortage of motor transport caused by World War II. It was then decided to have the line re-conditioned with old rails from South West Africa.

In 1946 the re-laying of the track was completed with the second-hand rails and pronounced good for another 20 years. It was a difficult task and took over a year to complete. A modest tribute remains however, in the foot or two of rail set in the pavement on the right hand side of Long Street diagonally opposite Thesen House. But safer rails were not the answer to the problems of the railway. After the end of the war it was used less and less, as it became uneconomical to rail timber and the forestries, merchants and ship owners used private lorries instead. This meant another drop in the Company’s earnings.

The historic decision was taken on 7 November 1947 to liquidate the South Western Railway Company and close down the railway by S.A.R. & H., and was sold to a sugar mill in Natal. The official closing date was fixed for 30 April 1949, and it was Tom Botha who drove the last train on the line. It was a sad day for the people of Knysna to have to bid farewell forever to their unique and beloved little “Coffee Pot” railway and Knysna certainly lost one of its quaint old characters. [6]The fate of the locomotives from the Knysna ‘Coffee Pot’ Line. [22]

The Route of the Line

The Knysna terminus of the line was located on Thesen Island. Thesen Wharf was, at the time of the construction of the railway in the early 1900s, a timber structure which was already showing its age. In 1910, the wharf came under the jurisdiction of the Department of Railways and Harbours. From 1911, the South Western Railway, under agreement with the new administration, took on responsibility for handling all the landing and shipping of the cargo on the wharf. [14]

In 1911, the construction of a concrete wharf (popularly known as Thesen Jetty) was authorised
to replace the worm-eaten wooden one. According to Parkes [15, p132] only three
reinforced concrete wharfs were built in South Africa, the first being at Robben Island, the
“White Jetty” at Mossel Bay and the Knysna wharf. She maintains that the Knysna wharf is
the only one of this type remaining on the continent (Parkes [15], p132).

Thesen Island only started being industrialised in the 1920’s with the re-erection of the sawmill of Thesen & Co which was originally situated at Brackenhill. Among the Thesen papers at the Cape Archives is a letter referring to the power station which generated 13300 KW of power per day for the use of the Industry as well as an additional 23 000 KW per day which supplied the municipality of Knysna. According to M. Parkes [15, p132] at first this was not located on the island but situated in premises next to the Thesen and Company Offices in Knysna. [14]

By 1933, the industrialisation of the island was well underway. The “sawtooth” building housing
the hard wood mill was complete along with a small power station, stores, some residential
structures, workshops and a small pole yard. The wharf is just on the right-hand edge of the picture and the 2ft narrow gauge railway enters centre-left and curves down to the wharf. [14]The much later picture above was taken in 1947 and shows the ongoing industrialisation of Thesen Island. The concrete wharf features strongly in the bottom right of the photograph. The railway feeding the wharf is evident once again entering the image centre-left. [14]

This final monochrome image (adjacent) shows the island later still in its development. The year is 1977 and although the railway is now long-gone its route is still evident and used as an access road. [14]

As we have seen above, the 2ft- gauge line commenced at the wharf and served Thesen’s plant on Thesen Island before crossing the causeway to the mainland.

The adjacent Google Earth satellite image shows the remaining tracks in the wharf road surface. These have been retained into the 21st century as evidence of the existence of the old railway. The Boat-shed visible in the monchrome photo above shows up clearly on this satellite image, right of centre at the top of the picture.

The next image shows those same lines in 2005. They are the last remnant of the 2ft gauge line in the town of Knysna. [6]

In the early 1980s Barlows, one of South Africa’s industrial conglomerates, purchased Thesen Island and its timber treatment plant from Thesen and Company. Barlows soon realized that the timber processing activities could not be continued on this island located in the midst of such a scenic and eco-sensitive lagoon. At the same time there was growing community concern about the environmental and industrial pollution caused by the factory’s activities. As a result the plant’s doors were finally closed. In the ensuing years the abandoned derelict buildings, machinery and waste dumps increasingly turned into an eyesore and a health hazard.

In 1991 Dr. Chris Mulder, a South African environmental engineer who received his doctorate in environmental design in Houston, USA, proposed a complete redevelopment of the island into a unique residential marina. As the Knysna River estuary is one of the most sensitive ecosystems in the country and a major tourism attraction, the development of Thesen Islands called for extremely careful and sensitive planning covering ecological, architectural, engineering, aesthetic, social and cultural criteria. After eight years of research and planning by Dr. Mulder and his team, approval was finally granted in December 1998 – but with over one hundred strict and complex conditions. In all, ten years passed from initial concept to final approval, involving twenty-five alterations to the master plan! [19] The site of the works, and indeed all of the Island, is now part of a luxury villa complex based around a series of canals.The wharf on Thesen Island. [18]

The causeway north from Thesen Island to the mainland appears in the adjacent Google Maps excerpt. At the half-point along its length there is, today a raised section (shown below) which allows access by boats and which also allows for tidal flows. There was a bridge at this location in the past, but at the time of the railway the causeway level was maintained across the structure.The old trains used to trundle along what is now Long Street north of the causeway and crossed Waterfront Drive before drifting away to follow the line of Mortimer Street and St. George’s Street to reach the location of the old Knysna Station. It appears that the station was located close to the timber merchants visible in the picture taken from Mortimer Street looking towards St. George’s Street below.The image above is a Google Streetview picture taken from Mortimer Street looking North.

The adjacent schematic map highlights the location of the station building. It suggests that it was on the West side of St. George’s Street just to the north of the timber merchants. [2]

The next few pictures show the Knysna Railway Station which was a corrugated iron structure on relatively open ground on what was then the north side of the town of Knysna.

Pictures of Knysna Railway Station on the 2ft gauge line. These were found on the website of the Knysna Museum. [23]

The adjacent sketch map suggests that, from Knysna Station, the line turned East to head towards Park Station. [6] The validity of the location on this map is suspect. The only plan of the route that I have been able to find in published material is that below which is superimposed on a Google Earth satellite image. It places Brackenhill on the N2 road far to the south of the location on the sketch map. The light blue line was known locally as ‘The Siding’. The image above can be found in the archives of as RHG_Bulletin No.129 Part 2. [16] “There was indeed a branch line in the forests which was part of the SWR’s original track construction. This branch line of approximately two kilometres ran in an extended loop via a cutting (±5m at its deepest) and a wooden bridge from Brackenhill station to the Thesen saw-mill – at the western end of the Brackenhill village – and  Thesen’s large general dealer’s store which was part of the village.” [16]

The RHG Bulletin indicates that most of the route of the Knysna Forest Railway is now on private land. I have used the image above as a reference point to follow the route of the old railway both to the West towards Knysna and to the North towards Diepwalle. The first satellite image below shows the length of the route which as of 4th April 2019 I have not been able to identify.Knysna Forest Railway Station is approximately at the location shown by the green arrow on the left of this image. Thesen Island and its causeway are visible to the south of that location. The red arrow shows the most westerly point of the Knysna Forest Railway that I have been able to identify from satellite images. The images below show the route from that point East at a larger scale.A train takes its ease at the end of the branch-line next to the sawmill. [16]Thesen’s sawmill at Brackenhills. [27]

The adjacent satellite image takes the extrapolation as far Northeast as it will go without being in any way forced.

From the place known as ‘The Siding’, “the main line continued to
Veldmanspad (see the next satellite image below) ….. At the siding there was a single switch point which could divert the train along a branch line which, because of the topography, ran in a wide loop to Brackenhill where Thesen & Co. owned ……… a General Dealer’s store which by contemporary standards was a fairly large
country store.” [16]

The line from Brakenhills to Veldmanspad is not easily visible on Google Earth and it runs far from any highway. The possible route of the line is shown dotted on the Google Earth Satellite images below.The alignment above seems likely from what can be picked out from Google Earth. North of the top edge of this satellite image it is very difficult to identify any particular route for the line until close to Veldmanspad Farm. The route shown below is however speculative. At Veldmanspad, Route 1 follows the line of the modern road. Route 2 seems less likely, but the location at which it leave the R339 is shown in the photograph below.The point where the possible alignment of the old railway leaves the line of the modern gravel road, the R339. The satellite images below assume that the route of the old railway line followed the modern gravel road.At the top of the satellite immediately above the line reached Templeman Station. The location is set aside for a short hike by the forestry authorities. The station served Templeman’s Mill. Both the adjacent picture and the one below show parts of the information boards at the site of the Station

I have been unable to establish beyond doubt the route of the line travelling on to Diepwalle. It seems to me that the most likely route is one which follows the road through the forest.

I hope to continue research on this line to confirm the route taken between Brackenhill and Diepwalle. Please, therefore treat the notes about the remaining length of the route with a degree of caution. …..

Given the layout of the land, it seems highly likely that the old railway followed the shoulder of the modern gravel road as shown on the adjacent satellite image. Towards the top of the image there a road junction. Turning left leads the explorer to the site of a large and old indigenous tree, the “Big Tree.” Heading straight-on keeps to the main gravel road. Bearing right takes on along what appears to be the old track-bed of the railway into Diepwalle.

The Google Streetview picture below shows the junction.The route from here travelled approximately northwards and the curved a little towards the East as it entered Diepwalle.

The satellite image below shows the whole Diepwalle site. The railway terminated here. Sadly, I have so far been unable to determine the layout of the railway at Diepwalle.

The two images above are display boards at Diepwalle. [28]Elephant Walks are provided from Diepwalle today. [29]

The weekday schedule  was for the train to depart Knysna at 8.30am and to visit Brackenhill where it would arrive at about 11.00am and leave ten minutes later, arriving at Diepwalle at about 1.00 pm. The locomotive would then return via Brackenhill, to Knysna by about 5.00 pm. [16][24][25]




The South Western Railways ex Natal Government 2 foot Railway narrow gauge 4-6-2T – SAR class NG.3 No.4 – is seen here with a load of timber from the Knysna Forest. The image comes from the South Western Railway Co. Ltd. web-page and it is used there with permission from the Transnet Heritage Foundation. Neg. No. 049638. [6]


  1. R.A. Butler; The Stinkwood railway; The Railway Magazine No. 600, April 1951, p249-250, p271.
  2., accessed on 23rd March 2019.
  3., accessed on 23rd March 2019.
  4., accessed on 23rd March 2019.
  5., accessed on 23rd March 2019.
  6.;id=64;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eherman%2Erula%2Eco%2Eza%2F, accessed on 23rd March 2019.
  7. Stinkwood: Stinkwood (Ocotea bullata – in South Africa Stinkhout) is the common name for a number of trees or shrubs which have wood with an unpleasant odour. [8] Stinkwood occurs from the Cape Peninsula to the Eastern Transvaal, but is absent in the Eastern Cape. It is a Protected Species, and is listed as Endangered in the South African Red List. Stinkwood is considered one of the most highly prized timbers in the world. The Tree is a medium to large evergreen tree, and can grow up to 30m in height. The bark is grey and mottled with white and orange circular patches, becoming rough and scaly. It has horizontal ridges and corky spots when young, but becomes flaky and dark grey-brown with age. The tree usually has a single stem, but sometimes shoots develop from the base of the stem or from an old stem, and these may grow into trees. The bark is greatly sought after for use in traditional medicine. The simple, alternate, leathery leaves are large and a glossy dark green with wavy, entire margins, with paler green below. They have conspicuous “bubbles” (bullae) in the axils of the lower lateral veins. This makes it very easy to identify the tree. Young leaves and leaf stalks can be quite red. Flowers are male, female or hermaphrodite. The small, yellowish-green or creamy flowers are in loose clusters in the axils of the leaf stalks near the tips of the branches. December – February. The fruit resembles an acorn. It is yellowish green to purple when ripe, with a large soft seed – about 20mm long. March – June.  [9]
  8., accessed on 24th March 2019.
  9., accessed 24th March 2019.
  10. Yellowwood: Yellowwood is distributed across East and South Africa (Podocarpus latifolius, family Podocapaceae [11][13]), it is an easily worked wood which makes little demands on tooling. Trees are slow -growing and can easily reach 600 years of age. [12] Timber has a fine texture and straight grain. Colour is yellow and turns a rich ochre when finished. [13]
  11., accessed on 24th March 2019.
  12., accessed on 24th March 2019.
  13., accessed on 24th March 2019.
  14., accessed on 24th March 2019.
  15. Margaret Parkes & V.M. Williams; Knysna, the forgotten port: The maritime story; EMU Publishers,1988, 2004.
  16., accessed on 24th March 2019.
  17. Sidney Moir; 24 Inches Apart; Janus Publishing. Second Edition Revised. 1981, (originally published in 1961).
  18., accessed on 24th March 2019.
  19., acccessed on 24th March 2019.
  20., accessed on 25th March 2019.
  21., accessed on 25th March 2019.
  22., accessed on 25th March 2019.
  23., accessed on 25th March 2019.
  24., accessed on 3rd April 2019.
  25., accessed on 3rd April 2019.
  26., accessed on 3rd April 2019.
  27., accessed on 4th April 2019.
  28., accessed on 15th April 2019.
  29., accessed on 15th April 2019.


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, on 27th February 2019.
  9. The Imperial Gazetteer of India. Volume 20, p44; accessed via, on 27th February 2019.
  10. Mumbai gawks as train chugs overhead;, 19th February 2013, accessed on 27th February 2019.
  11., quoting Cassell’s Railways of the World By Frederick Arthur Ambrose Talbot, 1924 edition; accessed on 28th February 2019.
  12., 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., accessed on 28th February 2019.
  14., accessed on 28th February 2019.
  15., accessed on 28th February 2019.
  16. The Monorail from Port Bell to Kampala, 1906 – 1909, GBR/0115/RCS/Y3011G/5. Cambridge University Library., accessed December 17, 2022.
  17. Tractor and monorail leaving Port Bell from Kampala, 1908-04-22, GBR/0115/RCS/Y3045C/18. Cambridge University Library., accessed December 17, 2022.

The Uganda Railway – Part 30 – The Railway Magazine 1950 – June 1950

Reading through old copies of The Railway Magazine, I came across this article in the June 1950 copy. I thought it might be of interest alongside my earlier post about traction on the East African Railways:

and my previous (most recent) post in this series ….

The article was entitled: Kenya and Uganda Railway Locomotives and was written by G. Gibson CME, E.A.R.&H. [1] It included a number of photographs of early locomotives on what was once called the Uganda Railway

Class F 0-6-0 Locomotive. [2]

Class B 2-6-0 Locomotive. [2]

Class N 2-6-0 Locomotive, introduced in 1896. [1]

Two locomotives were imported from India to commence construction work

Gibson states, “There appears to be no detailed description of the locomotives available today, nor is it certain that they were both of the same type, as both ” A ” and ” E ” class engines are mentioned in early papers. They were certainly very small, and the Chief Engineer reported them as being incapable of hauling more than two wagons on a 1 in 30 grade.”

The ‘N’ class locomotives are the first for which details available. Eight were started work in 1896, and a further eight in 1899.  Gibson states that  some were fitted with, “Joy’s valve gear and the balance with Walschaerts link motion. These engines suffered from one serious defect, in that they continually derailed.”

To strengthen the roster and  provide more reliable motive power than the than the ‘N’ class, eight ‘F’ class engines were delivered in 1897 and a further 26 followed in due course. In the latter part of 1897, orders were placed with Baldwins for 36 engines, known as the ‘B’ class; 20 were came in 1899 and the balance in 1900. “They proved reliable in service, but more expensive to maintain than the ‘F’ class. They were typical of American design at that time, with bar frames, and sand box mounted on the boiler top.”

By 1910 both these classes were in poor shape. They were kept in service druing the Great War and were not finally written off until 1931. Several of them were destroyed by mines laid by enemy raiding parties. “In April and May, 1915, some 50 attempts were made on the railway by such parties, often resulting in fatal casualties among train crews.”

By 1910, more power was essential. Orders were placed with the North British Locomotive Company, in 1911 for 18 Mallet-type compound locomotives which arrived in 1913/14. They were marginally re-designed locally which improves things but they remained unpopular with drivers. Failures continued to happen often and they were scrapped in 1930.

Also in around 1910, “three side-tank engines were ordered from Nasmyth, Wilson, known locally as the ‘E.D.’ class, and placed in service in 1913. They proved successful and were employed on main line traffic … but with fuel consumptions equal to the older engines. They were scrapped in 1938.”Class E.D. 2-6-2 Locomotive. [4]

Seven ‘E.B.’ class engines were put into service at the outbreak of the Great War. Thirty four further ‘E.B.’ class locos were purchased. They had minor design differences and so were classes ‘E.B.1’. Seventeen started work in 1920 and seventeen in 1921. The first E.B. locomotives were disposed of in 1934 as were the majority of if the E.B.1’s. six were still in use when the Railway Magazine article was written.

“The ‘E.B.’ class were built by Nasmyth, Wilson & Co. Ltd., and the ‘E.B.1’ class by the North British Locomotive Co. Ltd. Oil fuel equipment was first tried out in the colony on one of these engines.”

The history of the different locomotive types is continued with reference to the ‘ Class E.E’ which was supplied by Nasmyth, Wilson & Co. Ltd. They were placed in service in 1913 and 1914. It had been expected that they would be withdrawn in 1939 but the advent of the Second World War changed things and they were still in use in 1950 when the Railway Magazine article was written. They were similar to the ‘E.D.’s  but by adding a trailing bogie in place of the pony, water capacity was increased by a half to 1200 gallons and fuel capacity by 2/3rds to 2.5 tonnes .

Superheaters  were trialed in 1921, Nasmyth, Wilson, produced two locos with similar specs.  to the ‘E.B.’ and ‘EAU’ Locomotives with Robinson superheaters fitted, they were known as the ‘E.B.2’ Class. They served well and were disposed of in 1934 after being very heavily worked. Those trials resulted in the purchase of  62 No. ‘E.B.3′ Class engines, all of which  were still in service in 1950. Class EB3 Locomotive. [3]

By 1950 they had been relegated to branch-line and pick-up traffic because more powerful locomotive were now in play.

In the late 1920s, 21 ‘E.E.’ CLass shunters with 2-4-2 wheel arrangements were employed and they were followed by a further 6 of the Class in the 1930s. The late 1920 saw thw arrival of the first Beyer-Garratt type engines, “which later were to become the mainstay of the railway’s motive power. An initial order for four ‘E.C.’ class was received and they were put into service immediately. The wheel arrangement and the motion was based on the ‘E.B.3’ type, with slightly smaller cylinders, and the axle-load limited to 10 tons to enable the engines to be used on the 50-lb track of branch lines.”Class EC3 4-8-4+4-8-4 Beyer-Garratt Locomotive. [4]

In 1939, these four engines, with two of a later class, were sold to Indo-China to make room for six engines of a heavier type.

I have posted about these locomotives in another article:

The success of these first Garratt’s led to an order for a further 12 Garratt type locos from Beyer, Peacock & Co. Ltd. Minor modifications meant that these were designated as the ‘E.C.1’ class. The adhesive weight was increased to 83.85 tons; total weight to 134.6 tons; water capacity to 5,250 gallons; and fuel to 10 tons.

“In 1931, ten ” E.C.2 ” class Garratt locomotives, made by the North British Locomotive Co. Ltd., were imported. They [were] a little heavier than the ” E.C.1 ” class, having an adhesive weight of 87.95 tons and a total weight in working order of 142.1 tons. In all other leading particulars they are identical although there are a few differences in detail where infringement of established patents might occur.”

Six 2-8-2 engines were also ordered and arrived in the colony in 1925, but were not placed in service until 1927-28. They were designated as the ‘E.A.’ class.. They performed really well but by 1950 had been relegated to “long distance through goods traffic between the capital and Mombasa, being limited by their 17.5 tons of axle load to this section, which until recently (1950) was the only line laid with 80-lb. rails.” Class EA and EC5 Locomotives. [3]

IN 1950, plans were afoot to refurbish the ‘E.A.’ Class.

After 1930, all locomotives purchased were of the Beyer-Garratt type:

  • 1939: 6 No. ‘E.C.3’ engines.
  • 1940: 2 No.  further ‘E.C.3’ locomotives.
  • 1941: 4 No.  further ‘E.C.3’ locomotives.

“They recorded large mileages during the late war, when traffic demands were the heaviest in the history of the railway. One engine covered 243,000 miles between shopping for heavy repairs, while several ran over 200,000. The boilers are fitted with arch tubes and thermic syphons. The maximum axleload (was) 11.75 tons, which limit(ed) their use to anything but main line traffic, where they (were) used on mail and through freight trains, hauling loads of up to 575 tons on 2% grades.”

  • 1944: 7 No. ‘E.C.4’ Class Garratts came from the War Department. By 1950, they were still the most powerful locomotives on the network. 
  • 1945: 2 No. ‘E.C.5’ Class ‘Burma Type’ locomotives. These moved south to Tanganyika in 1949.
  • 1949: 6 No. ‘E.C.6’ locomotives almost identical in design to the ‘Burma Type’.

In 1950 further Beyer-Garratt type locomotives were on order.

1. G. Gibson; Kenya & Uganda Railway Locomotives; The Railway Magazine, Volume 96, No. 590, p401-405.

2. The Railway Magazine, Volume 96, No. 590, p398.

3. The Railway Magazine, Volume 96, No. 590, p399.

4.The Railway Magazine, Volume 96, No. 590, p404.

5. The Railway Magazine, Volume 96, No. 590, p402-403.

The Uganda Railway – Part 29 – The Railway Magazine 1950 – April 1950

I have been looking through old railway magazines over the Christmas break in 2018 and came across articles in the 1950 editions of the Railway Magazine which relate to this series of posts. The first is in the April 1950 edition of the magazine. ……..

The April 1950 edition of The Railway Magazine [1] contains the first of these articles written by Thomas H. Cobb.

He begins with a relatively short description of the route of the line, first focussing on the route via Kisumu (Port Florence) and Port Bell to Kampala and then on the route via Tororo.

He comments: “These lines have always been state railways, though they are administered as a separate department.”

Cobb goes on to describe a journey on the line. He notes: “There is practically no difference between first and second class, except that the former have a fan and bed-reading lamps, and are slightly less crowded. Third class carriages have wooden seats and centre corridors; they are always crammed to bursting point. Hire of bedding, and food in the restaurant cars is cheap, and passengers are officially encouraged not to tip company servants – but they do. Speed is never high; the up mail train covers the first 30 miles out of Mombasa in 100 min., including two stops. All trains stop at all stations, with the exception of a few ‘local’ stations neat Mombasa and an odd flag stop or two usually missed by the mails.”

The Uganda Mail heading for Lake Victoria in the Kikuyu Hills, banked by 4-8-0 Locomotive No. 69. [2]

An EC3 at the spiral close to Timboroa Station. [2]

He concludes with some trivia:

  • from Mbulamuti to Jinja the east-west main line runs distinctly eastwards for about 20 miles.
  • The curves on the line have the inner edge of the outer rail oiled by hand twice a week.
  • The two summits of 8,322 and 9,136 ft. on the Kisumu and Kampala lines respectively are only 20 miles apart, but on quite separate lines, yet they have each pursued an independent course of over 60 miles from their divergence at Nakuru.
  • The only racial discrimination on the railway is against Europeans, as they are not issued with tickets below second class, even for trains which consist of third class carriages only.


  1. Thomas H. Cobb; The Kenya-Uganda Railway; in The Railway Magazine No. 588 Vol. 96 April 1950, p262-267.
  2. The Railway Magazine April 1950, p250.

The Uganda Railway – Part 27 – Locomotives and Rolling Stock – Part E (Rolling Stock 1895 to 2018)

Metre-Gauge Railways in East Africa – Rolling Stock

This post provides a short survey of carriages, goods wagons and brake vans/cabooses on the network in Kenya and Uganda from the inception of the Uganda Railway in the 19th Century to through the demise of the East African Railways Corporation in 1977 on to 2018 when this post is being written. The approach is eclectic rather than structured and the post includes some interesting vehicles.

A. The Early Years

Nairobi Railway Museum houses a couple of examples of passenger stock from the very early years of the line. During the construction phase of what was the original main line from Mombasa to Kisumu it was not possible to provide air conditioning in carriages! Carriages had to be design in order to limit temperature experienced by passengers.It was from this coach that superintendent Charles Henry Ryall was dragged and killed by a man eating lion on 6th june 1900 at Kima station. [1]Interior of a 1st Class Carriage at Nairobi Railway Museum. [35]The coach in the first image above can be seen poking its nose into this image of another Uganda Railway 1st Class carriage. The photo was taken, by me, in 1994.British and SA troops in WW1 decorate a Uganda Railway train at Voi with merchandise confiscated from felled or runaway German troops. [9]111397: Nairobi Kenya Preserved Uganda Railway Officers Saloon No 13 on platform, (c) Weston Langford. [8]Lion leaning on the back of carriage with box van behind, dated around 1961. The image shows a lion stepping up on to the back of the railway carriage and trying to find a way in. The photo is linked to the East African Railways & Harbours/Caltex historical film ‘The Permanent Way”, which included the building of the original ‘Uganda Railway’ from Mombasa to Kisumu (now in Kenya) from 1895 to 1903. [36]An example of one of the above coaches at the rear of a train on the first (timber) bridge between Mombasa Island and the mainland. [2]Similar carriages illustrated again at At Mombasa Railway Station around the turn of the 20th century. [3]Loading the train. [3]Another images of the early carriages, this time at Changamwe Railway Station a few kilometres from Mombasa. [4] This picture also provides a glimpse of a typical covered goods wagon in use on the line in the early 20th Century.And at Samburu. [5]A short train of open wagons close to Mombasa in the construction phase of the line. [3]  The two images immediately above are evidence of a rather chaotic attitude to the transport of railway workers in the years of the construction of the line! [6]A Uganda Railway wagon stands alongside Indian labourers as they repair the railway near Taveta during WW1. It had been bombed by the Germans. [9]An interesting example of early holiday travel. A short journey down the line to shoot game! [7]A further example of provision made for shooting parties: the High Commissioner to had the railway extended to his estate. It was used by the Governor Frederick John Jackson who owned a 1910 BSA Railcar, which was used for hunting parties. When the American President Theodore Roosevelt visited Uganda he borrowed the railcar. The BSA Railcar above was restored by the Sandstone Heritage Trust in South Africa. [7]

The railcar was made for the High Commissioner by the Drewry Car Co, using a BSA engine. Drewry & Sons had previously been cycle builders, run by Charles Drewry and his two sons, and located at the Herne Hill Cycle Works, 286-290 Milkwood Road. James Drewry delivered a motorised railway inspection trolley to Africa (below). Subsequently the company started building the BSA-engined Railcars. BSA took over production themselves in 1908. [7]An early goods train on the line, crossing a steel viaduct. The train is a combination of open wagons and a cattle wagon. [10]An open wagon supplied to the Uganda Railway in 1902 by the Metropolitan Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Ltd of Birmingham, UK. [16]Another early wagon on display at Nairobi Railway Museum. [24]

I have recently discovered some photographs of a model railway based on this line in the early years of the 20th Century. My interest in model railways means that I find these images exciting.I have still to find out more about this model. The rolling stock and locomotives seem to be very faithful to the original. [12]

B. The Developing and Growing Network

Early coaching stock began to give way to slightly better travelling conditions and carriage sizes began to develop to provide the travelling public with a better standard of service.The three pictures immediately above were taken by me in 1994 at Mombasa Railway Station. They provide a glimpse of passenger coaches stored in the sidings at the station and it is my hope that this blog post will place them into context in the history of the railway.The interior of a restaurant car. [23]A Class 11 locomotive during WW1 travels with an open wagon ahead of it to allow for the possibility of German mines.111510: In a siding at Gulu, Uganda Officers Inspection Car No 116 sits awaiting possible duties, (c) Weston Langford. [8]Passenger livery for an inspector’s caboose complete with rear window which was not fitted on a goods caboose. Goods cabooses were finished in all over maroon, as shown in the smaller image below, (c) Peter Ritchie. [11]


The larger monochrome image below shows a passenger train caboose in use by the sikh drivers of the train as their rest-coach between stints at the controls of the train, (c) Anthony Potterton. [6]The image immediately above shows a large caboose (No. 962) in all-over maroon, pictured in the Mombasa Railway Station sidings in 1994. The picture is one of my own.The photograph above shows a similar caboose (No. 6067). The notices on the doors indicate that the left-hand door is for the Mechanical Department Staff and the right-hand one for Mechanical Department Drivers. The caboose is stabled at Voi. [13] A similar vehicle is shown in this picture (adjacent) taken by George Gilliland. [11]

Freight/Goods wagons increased in size from those used in early years. The picture below shows an early flat bed wagon being loaded with a more modern car. [6] Should we call it a car transporter?The sidings at the main stations on the line provide ample evidence of the amount of freight which used to be carried on the line. Much of the rolling stock (both for freight and passengers) seems to be stabled and unused in many of these images below. These images have been trawled from a series of different websites.Coaching stock at Nairobi Station. [14]A picture taken from Nairobi Railway Museum. [15]Carriage interior. [34]More pictures taken from Nairobi Railway Museum (above and adjacent). [15]

A typical mixed train consist is shown below – coaches, box wagons and tarpaulin covered open wagons being typical. There would also have been a caboose to allow drivers rest-time.

More images of rolling stock follow. As the 20th Century gradually came to an end traditional wagons were replaced by flatbed container wagons. Rail transport also began to specialize as road transport carried the more regular loads.Typical goods traffic from the 1960s was covered wagons which required loading before incorporating into goods trains, as immediately below. [17]Bulk loads of oil or specialist loads of wire which travelled from point of origin to point of destination on the railways, and did not need transshipment, became the main freight carried on the line. A typical oil train is shown above. [19] And a specialist load is shown below. [20]Container traffic became more and more significant.Mombasa metre-gauge freight railway terminal. [21]Image result for railway Carriages in KenyaNew coaches for Kenya produce by BREL in Derby UK. [33]


A series of railway maintenance cranes were kept at a variety of stations along the route of the metre-gauge line. Some of these are now kept at Nairobi Railway Museum.Crane No. 1164 at Nairobi Railway Museum where it is seen outside after repainting on 22nd October 2015, (c) Geoff Warren. [22] Also at Nairobi Railway Museum, Crane No. 1106, (c) John Ashworth. [22] At Nairobi Depot, Crane No. 1130, (c) John Ashworth. [22]At Nairobi Depot, Crane No. 1013, (c) John Ashworth. [22]Crane No. 1101 sitting idle and rusting away in Kampala. [22]

Light Weight Passenger Stock (Aluminium)

In the latter years of the East African Railway Corporation purchases of light weight carriages were made and many of these were used as 1st Class carriages.

A number were used as coaches to be dropped off from the main services to allow first class access to branch-lines. This practice is covered in an early post in this series. [30] A couple of photographs follow. ….

Other Interesting Pictures

East African Railways Railcar No. 3 was a Wickham Railcar, it was built in 1947. One of its sisters is shown below. [26]Railcar No. 2 was also built in 1947 and was 200hp, used on the Kisumu-Butere branch line. [27]East African Railways Inspection Vehicle. [28]

Uganda Railway - UR postal van under construction (Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company)

Uganda Railway - UR postal van under construction (Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company)

The two images immediately above show a Uganda Railways Postal Wagon under construction at the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Works in the UK. [29]

C. The Latter years

After 1977, the rolling stock (and locomotives) on the network were distributed between the three main constituent parts in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Very little new stock was purchased once the East African Railways Corporation had been split up. However, in 2015, the Uganda Observer reported that RVR was set to increase its current haulage capacity by 50 per cent after its first 120 of 480 heavy-duty railway wagons arrived in Kenya. Apparently, each of the wagons, which were built by the China CNR Corporation, had the capacity to transport 60 tonnes per trip, an increase from a then current 40-tonne load capacity per wagon. [32]

In 1994, I travelled from Mombasa to Kampala by train. I was on my own and so experienced a few problems with leaving luggage in my compartment when eating in the dining car. My luggage was expertly searched and some of my well-hidden cash (US dollars) went missing. The culprit had the confidence to approach me before I had noticed the loss to change some of the currency for him!

The theft apart, I had a wonderful time. The pictures that follow are not my own and were taken in the early years of the 21st century under the tenure of Rift Valley Railways (RVR). The journey that I enjoyed from Mobassa to Kampala was only available for a few years in the 1990s. The sleeper services in Kenya travelled from Kisumu through to Mombasa. Apart for the repainting of the carriages which were originally built in the UK, there seems to be little difference in the travelling conditions – silver service on starched table cloths, two berth cabins with connecting doors to the immediately adjacent cabin, etc. The first two images are taken from the pre-RVR era. The first three are my own (low quality slides) from 1994. The Nairobi-Mombasa express…  (c) David Pinney. [31]









The pictures of the sleeper coaches and the dining car are taken from a blog entitles ‘The Man in Seat Sixty-One’ by Mark Smith. [31]

The sleeper train from Nairobi to Mombasa no longer travels as it has been replaced by the SGR line. However, the SGR does not access the centres of Nairobi and Mombasa. The image below shows the metre-gauge train arriving at Nairobi SGR terminus with a train from the much older city centre station.

The price for the journey from Nairobi to Mombasa in 1000 KSh in 2nd Class and 3000 KSh. in 1st Class. This is ridiculously cheap for a western traveller, there are around 125KSh to t UK£1 and 100KSh to US$1. A 2nd Class single from Nairobi to Mombasa is £8.00!!

A metre-gauge train in RVR colours has just arrived at the Nairobi terminus of the SGR line. [31]SGR trainPassenger coaches on the SGR are built in China, modern and air-conditioned… [31]


  1., accessed on 30th June 2018.
  2., accessed on 30th April 2018.
  3., accessed on 30th April 2018.
  4., accessed on 30th April 2018.
  5., accessed on 15th June 2018.
  6., accessed on 30th June 2018.
  7., accessed on 30th June 2018.
  8., accessed on 30th June 2018.
  9., accessed on 30th June 2018.
  10., accessed on 25th May 2018.
  11., accessed on 30th June 2018. NB: Tony Potterton who owns this website contacted me to emphasize that while this small image is available on his site it is not one of his own images.
  12., accessed on 30th June 2018.
  13., accessed on 3rd July 2018.
  14., accessed on 3rd July 2018.
  15., accessed on 25th June 2018.
  16., accessed on 1st July 2018.
  17., accessed on 25th June 2018.
  18., accessed on 3rd July 2018.
  19.–Kenya-failed-railway-deal—RVR-chief/688606-4140902-15aa6p0/index.html, accessed on 3rd July 2018.
  20., accessed on 3rd July 2018.
  21., accessed on 3rd July 2018.
  22., accessed on 28th June 2018.
  23., 25th May 2018.
  24., accessed on 3rd July 2018.
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  29. and, both accessed on 1st July 2018.
  31., accessed on 4th July 2018.
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  36., accessed on 4th July 2018.




The Uganda Railway – Part 28 – Locomotives and Rolling Stock – Part F (1977 to 2018)

In 1977 the East African Railways Corporation (EARC), formerly the East African Railways and Harbours Corporation (EAR&H) was broken up. The three countries which made up the East African Community were unable to agree about many things and it became necessary for them to go their own ways. Three railway companies were formed: Kenya Railways Corporation; [1] Uganda Railways Corporation; [2] and Tanzania Railways Corporation. [3] In this post we will focus on the first two of these and on later arrangements with Rift Valley Railways which ended in 2017 when the two Corporations were reformed. At the end of the post, which is essentially about narrow-gauge railways we will highlight developments relating to the new standard-gauge lines which may well dominate the future in Kenya and Uganda.

  1. Kenya Railways Corporation
  2. Uganda Railways Corporation
  3. Rift Valley Railways
  4. Chinese Standard-Gauge Lines

In 1977 the East African Community (EAC) collapsed. The East African Community (EAC) is now an intergovernmental organization composed of six countries in the African Great Lakes region in eastern Africa: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. John Magufuli, the president of Tanzania, is the EAC’s chairman. The organisation was founded in 1967, collapsed in 1977, and was revived on 7 July 2000. [4]

In 2008, after negotiations with the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the EAC agreed to an expanded free trade area including the member states of all three organizations. The EAC is an integral part of the African Economic Community.

Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda have cooperated with each other since the early 20th century. The customs union between Kenya and Uganda in 1917, which Tanganyika joined in 1927, was followed by the East African High Commission (EAHC) from 1948 to 1961, the East African Common Services Organization (EACSO) from 1961 to 1967, and the East African Community (EAC) from 1967 to 1977. [5] Burundi and Rwanda joined the EAC on 6 July 2009. [6]

Inter-territorial co-operation between the Kenya Colony, the Uganda Protectorate, and the Tanganyika Territory was formalised in 1948 by the EAHC. This provided a customs union, a common external tariff, currency, and postage. It also dealt with common services in transport and communications, research, and education. Following independence, these integrated activities were reconstituted and the EAHC was replaced by the EACSO, which many observers thought would lead to a political federation between the three territories. The new organisation ran into difficulties because of the lack of joint planning and fiscal policy, separate political policies, and Kenya’s dominant economic position. In 1967, the EACSO was superseded by the EAC. This body aimed to strengthen the ties between the members through a common market, a common customs tariff, and a range of public services to achieve balanced economic growth within the region. [7]

In 1977, the EAC collapsed. The causes of the collapse included demands by Kenya for more seats than Uganda and Tanzania in decision-making organs, [8] disagreements with Ugandan dictator Idi Amin who demanded that Tanzania as a member state of the EAC should not harbour forces fighting to topple the government of another member state, and the disparate economic systems of socialism in Tanzania and capitalism in Kenya. [9] The three member states lost over sixty years of co-operation and the benefits of economies of scale, although some Kenyan government officials celebrated the collapse with champagne.[10]

The EAC was revived on 30 November 1999, when the treaty for its re-establishment was signed. It came into force on 7 July 2000, 23 years after the collapse of the previous community and its organs. A customs union was signed in March 2004, which commenced on 1 January 2005. Kenya, the region’s largest exporter, continued to pay duties on goods entering the other four countries on a declining scale until 2010. A common system of tariffs will apply to goods imported from third-party countries. On 30 November 2016 it was declared that the immediate aim would be confederation rather than federation. [11]

The collapse of the East African Community saw the railways split three ways and the stock was similarly dispersed. Inevitably stock was renumbered. A typical example is 4-8-0 steam locomotive No. 2401 which ended up in Uganda and can still be found at Tororo in a dilapidated state. Kenya took No. 2412 and renumbered it for the class leader No. 2401. It is this renumbered loco which can be seen at Nairobi Railway Museum.

From 1977 onwards existing classes of locomotive were supplemented by others.

1. Kenya Railways Corporation

In 1977, the Kenya Railways Corporation was formed. Over the next 30 years, Kenya’s railway network deteriorated from a lack of maintenance. By 2017, only half of Kenya’s metre-gauge railways remained in operation! [12]

In November 2006, the Rift Valley Railways Consortium took over the operation of railways in Kenya and Uganda under a 25-year concession. [13] However, RVR was unable to turnaround railway operations, hampered by corrupt management and aging infrastructure. In 2017, the World Bank found that a $22 million loan extended for the purchase of refurbished locomotives had been diverted into a shell company controlled by RVR executives. [14] The Uganda Railways Corporation issued a notice of default to RVR in 2016, [15] and the Kenya Railways Corporation terminated the concession in April 2017. [16]

From 1977 to 2006 a number of new locomotives were purchased.

Henschel – Class 62

A photograph of this locomotive can be found on flickr © CPH3. It was taken in 1979 and shows a Class 62, No. 6243 diesel hydraulic & GE U26C Class 93 at Nairobi MPD. The link is provided at Reference 38 below. [38]


Class 62, No. 6255 Henschel has arrived at Kisumu with the through carriages from Butere, bound for the Nairobi night train. Some shunting had to be done and then No. 6255 headed off to the shed, ending the duties for today. © [39]

A pair of 62 Class diesels at Nairobi’s old steam shed with its water crane now devoid of its hose (right), © Graham Roberts. [40]

GE U26C – Class 93 and Class 94

The Kenya Railways (KR) U26C locomotives have been designated as class 93 (delivery in 1977, 26 units) and 94 (delivery in 1987, 10 units). [31]

In 1998, five of the class 93 locomotives were leased to Magadi Rail, a subsidiary of the Magadi Soda Company. They were used to operate soda ash trains from Magadi along the 150 km (93 mi) branch line to Konza, which is also leased to Magadi Rail. [32]. In 2007, they were returned to their owner. [33]

As at 2011, all members of class 93 and 94 formed part of the fleet of the Rift Valley RailwaysConsortium. They were all still serviceable and suitable for rehabilitation and upgrading. [34]

Class 93, No. 9308 [35]

Freight train on the way to Uganda near Nakuru, © Daniel Wipf. [36]

Class 93, Nos. 9310 and 9322 double-heading a goods train at Equator, Kenya. [37]

Class 93, No. 9306 at Mombasa © Daniel Wipf. [36]

Kenya Railways Class 94 at the head of the train I travelled on from Mombasa to Nairobi in 1994, just about to leave Mombasa Railway Station.

Class 94, No. 9402 [34]

Class 94, No. 9406, one 10 U26C’s built under works numbers 45374-45383 in February 1987. Fitted with the 7FDL12 engine of 2610hp. 1.000m gauge, C-C wheel arrangement. 9406 and a sister loco in Nairobi freight yard (adjacent to Nairobi station). Train is a container train bound for Mombasa docks. Photo taken on 27 February 1998 © Dave Craik. [47]

Other Locomotives

Class 95

Class 95, No. 9509 arrives at Nairobi with train from Mombasa. Kenyan Railways had 10 Class 95 which are GE Class 34’s leased from Spoornet. Photo taken on 27 February 1998, © Dave Craik. [47]

2. Uganda Railways Corporation

Uganda Railways Corporation was formed after the breakup of the East African Railways Corporation (EARC) in 1977 when it took over the Ugandan part of the East African railways. [20]

Its operation after the demise of the EARC was hampered by civil war and inefficient management in Uganda. A significant number of new locomotives were purchased in the time of Idi Amin. [59]

After the EAR breakup URC got the following locos:

36U01-06 Henschel DHG400 32209-14/1977-78 340 hp
62U01-10 Henschel DHG1000 32199-208/1977-78 760 hp
71U01-02 Alsthom AD12B 1986 1050 hp
73U01-20 Henschel DHG1200 32392-411/1978-83 1250 hp
73U21-33 Henschel DHG 1200 32949-61/1990 1250 hp
82U01-14 Alsthom AD20C 1979-81 2000 hp derated to 1650 hp. [59]

In 1989, government soldiers massacred sixty civilians at Mukura railway station.

Uganda Railways were joint recipients of the 2001 Worldaware Business Award for “assisting economic and social development through the provision of appropriate, sustainable and environmentally complementary transport infrastructure”. [21]

Class 36, No. 36U06, Henschel DHG400 32209-14/1977-78 340hp (c) U.S. Army. [50]

Uganda Railways Class 62 (Henschel DHG1000 32199-208/1977-78 760hp) at the head of a goods train heading from Nairobi to Kampala in 1994.

The then daily 16.00 train to Kasese stands ready in Kampala station for its overnight journey west with loco 73U05 () on 26th March 1984, (c) torgormaig on the National Preservation Forum. [52]

The two images immediately above show two Henschel locomotive types in Uganda Railways livery which were eventually renumbered as Class 73. The first image shows No. 73U15 [48] and a class-mate. The second shows No. 62U06. [49] The one below shows No. 73U33 (formerly No. 62U33) at Kampala Railway Station. [51]

In 2005, the Rift Valley Railways Consortium (RVRC) from South Africa was awarded a concession to manage URC and Kenya Railways. RVRC was scheduled to take over operations on 1 August 2006. However, the East African Standard reported on 28 July 2006, that the take-over was postponed until 1 November 2006. [22] It actually took place in November 2006 and was scheduled to last for 25 years. [23]

73U27 still in Uganda Railways livery but in charge of a RVR train in Kampala on 13th March 2012, the day after RVR took over local services. [53]

The 2007–08 Kenyan crisis included destructive riots that blocked and partly destroyed the rail system linking Kenya and Uganda, leading to economic difficulties in supply for Uganda. Further, destruction and loss of income led to significant financial losses. [24]

On 9 October 2008, Toll Holdings of Australia announced that it had entered into a contract to manage the Kenya-Uganda railway, replacing management by RVRC. Officers from Toll subsidiary Patrick Defence Logistics would manage the railway after the transition. [25]

Under Rift Valley Railways in August 2010 owned 3 No. ex-URC 62U and 15 No. ex-URC 73U in (with some of the 73Us renumbered into 73s), while others could be found derelict at Nalukolongo Works. [59]

Because of extensive fraud [14] the Rift Valley Railways concession was terminated and in late February 2018, URC finally took possession of the concession assets and resumed operating the metre-gauge railway system in Uganda. [20][26]

3. Rift Valley Railways Consortium [27]

The governments of Uganda and Kenya contracted RVR, majority-owned by Egyptian equity firm Qalaa Holdings, to operate the 2,353-kilometre Kenya-Uganda railway line for 25 years. Rift Valley Railways (RVR) Consortium won the bid for private management of the century-old Uganda Railway in 2005 and in 2014, RVR moved 1,334 million net tonne kilometres of rail freight, up from 1,185 million net tonne kilometres the previous year. [28]

Repainted/rebranded Class 87, No. 8723. [45]

Old and new juxtaposed. A Class 93 in RVR livery passes one of the new SGR railway stations in Kenya. [46]

Repainted/re-branded Class 94, No. 9409 at Nairobi Railway Station. [41]

Repainted/re-branded and renumbered Class 62 locomotive, Class 73, No. 7319, at Kampala. [42]

Newer locos of the Class 96 are shown in the two photos immediately above. The first is No. 9616 in charge of a goods train passing the SGR station at Mtito Andei, Kenya, (c) Jeff Angote. [43] The second shows three of the class at Kampala Railway Station, No. 9617 is easily identified and the second locomotive is probably No. 9609. [44]

Rift Valley Railways purchased a number of locomotives from General Electric in 2014 and gave them the Class No. 96. RVR held a ceremony on 18th September 2014 to mark the commissioning of the first three of 20 second-hand GE B23-7 locomotives which were acquired from the USA at a cost of US$25m (2.2 billion Kenya Shillings) and converted from standard to metre gauge. These were the first locomotives delivered to Kenya or Uganda since 1987. The remaining 17 arrived over the following five months.

By 2017 the relationship with both countries governments had soured completely. Both countries accused RVR of failing to live up to the terms of the concession, including non-payment of concession fees amounting (in the case of Uganda) to US$ 8.5 million equivalent to 31 billion Shillings. RVR is also said to be debt-ridden, owing hundreds of millions of dollars to lenders like the African Development Bank, German Development Bank, Infrastructure Crisis Facility, and Equity Bank. [29] There is evidence of corruption at the highest level in the company, as noted above, a $22 million loan extended for the purchase of refurbished locomotives had been diverted into a shell company controlled by RVR executives. [14]

The concession in both countries was terminated in the ‘winter’ months of 2017/2018.

4. Standard-Gauge Lines

In 2011, Kenya signed a memorandum of understanding with the China Road and Bridge Corporation to build the Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR). Financing for the US$3.6 billion project was finalised in May 2014, with the Exim Bank of China extending a loan for 90% of the project cost, and the remaining 10% coming from the Kenyan government. [17] Passenger service on the SGR was inaugurated on 31 May 2017. [18]

As of June 2018, work is underway to extend the SGR to Naivasha. [19] There are plans to broaden the network of standard-gauge lines considerably as shown below. [30]

The SGR in Kenya currently runs from close to Mombasa to close to Nairobi. The style of the line and its stations is/are futuristic. A few images give a good impression of the line. It has not been universally well-received and particular concern has been expressed about access to both termini from their respective cities.

Modern SGR train. [54]

One of the many viaducts allowing wildlife free access under the new SGR railway, [55]

SGR Mombasa terminus. [56]

Nairobi SGR railway terminus. [57]

Mtito Andei SGR Railway Station. [58]


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  59. Comments made on the first published version of this post by Thomas Kautzor.

The Uganda Railway – Part 26 – Locomotives and Rolling Stock – Part D (Diesel – 1948 to 1977)

Diesel Traction on the East African Railways and Harbours Lines (1948 – 1977)

As the 20th Century progressed, railway networks and locomotive manufacturers began to turn away from steam and to look at a variety of alternative drive mechanisms and loco types. In East Africa the focus turned from steam to diesel.

Perhaps one of the most telling images that I have found while reading around the story of the East African Railways is the graph below. Sadly, the quality is not great but it makes a very important point. [7]

It is impossible to exaggerate the tractive effort required from the motive power on the line through Kenya and Uganda. In the UK we make a great deal of fuss over the strain placed on standard-gauge locomotives on the West Coast Mainline. Shap, Beattock and Drumuachdar are significant climbs which taxed the most powerful of locomotives. The gradients and the heights which the East African lines surmounted dwarf that UK mainline. These feats of endurance and the relative power of the locomotives required to achieve them on narrow-gauge lines is astounding. The diesels which would eventually replace the Garratts, which for many years dominated services on East African lines, would need to efficiently supply significant power with great adhesion if they vwere ever to makeva success of a role on these metals.

Class 90 (later Class 87) English Electric Diesels

Decisions were taken in the 1950s which led to the ordering of a series of different classes of diesel locomotives. The first diesel-electrics to be designed for the mainline, the Class 90 diesel-electrics first ran on the network in 1960. These locomotives ran for a time with Class 90 numbers before being re-numbered as Class 87.Class 90 1-Co-Co-1 diesels introduced in 1960, seen here at Nairobi Shed.  The first diesels to operate on the main line they were originally rostered to run between Nairobi and Nakuru, © Kevin Patience. [1]

john Ashworth quotes Steve Palmano’s comments that “the EAR&H 90 class was the second English Electric (EE) 12CSVT-engined model to be delivered, but the first to be ordered. The initial order, for 8 units was announced in October 1958, and an increase to 10 units was announced in March 1959. This was EAR&H’s first order for line-service diesel locomotives. A 13.5 ton maximum axle loading was imposed, to enable the locomotives to work northwest of Nairobi to Nakuru and Kampala, as well as between Mombasa and Nairobi, which section alone would have allowed a higher axle loading. This axle loading constraint required a multi-axle design, as it is unlikely that EE could have built a compliant 12-cylinder Co-Co model.  Unsurprisingly, EE used a 1-Co-Co-1 wheel arrangement. The resulting locomotive was largely a new design, although it included features drawn from the QR 1250 class (body style and general layout) and the Rhodesian Railways (RR) 16-cylinder DE2 class (running gear and in-frame fuel tank). What it was not, though, was simply a 1-Co-Co-1 variant of the QR 1250 with 12CSVT in place of 12SVT engine.” [2]

“Notwithstanding the 13.5 tons axle loading specification, the first series were built to a slightly lower 12.8 tons number, giving an adhesive weight of 76.8 tons. The total weight was 97.5 tons. The continuous tractive effort is consistently quoted as 44 500 lbf, although there is some variety in the corresponding minimum continuous speed, which is variously reported as 11.5, 11.7 and 12¼ mile/hr. The top speed is usually reported as 45 mile/hr, but this would have been a track limited speed, as the expected 72:15 gearing would have allowed 60 mile/hr, and there is no reason why the running gear would not have accommodated this on suitable track.” [2]

Class 90 English Electric diesel 9007 accompanies a 13 Class 4-8-4T built by North British, © Malcolm McCrow. [1]

90 Class 9003 at Nairobi Steam Shed (c) Kevin Patience. [1]9003 with a 59 Class on the left and a 29 Class on the right. Later in life the 90 Class was to become EAR&H’s 87 Class (c) Kevin Patience. [1]An EAR&H Class 90 diesel locomotive accompanied by other diesels and a Class 31 (c) Anthony Potterton. [1]English Electric Class 90 No. 9008 at Nakuru at the head of No 2 Down (Kampala to Nairobi and Mombasa), © James Lang Brown.[4]Class 90 No. 9010 waits to take over from the Class 58 which has brought the train from Kampala, © Malcolm McCrow. [4]Class 90 No. 9010 awaits the right away for Nairobi, © Malcolm McCrow. [4]English Electric 90 Class diesel in the cutting by Speke and Lugard Houses of Duke of York School © Paul Tanner Tremaine. [5]

Mail Kisumu – Nairobi, diesel class 87 (originally Class 90), approaching Nairobi 1976. [3]Class 87, No. 8729 at Tororo in 1971. [6]

Other Diesels

By 1975, the roster of diesels on the East African Railway had increased to include shunters and mainline locomotives for goods and passengers. Initially most of these diesels were sourced from the UK. [8] The range included:

A. 4 classes of smaller shunting locomotives which were 200hp diesel mechanical locos:

  • Class 32 (originally Class 80)
  • Class 33 (originally Class 81)
  • Class 34 (originally Class 82)
  • Class 35

Details are tabulated below …

B. Some larger goods/shunting locomotive classes:

  • Class 43 (originally Class 83)
  • Class 44 (originally Class 84)
  • Class 45 (originally Class 85)
  • Class 46 (originally Class 86)

Details are tabulated below …

C. Mainline classes:

  • Class 61
  • Class 71 (originally Class 91)
  • Class 72
  • Class 79
  • Class 87 (originally Class 90)
  • Class 88
  • Class 92

As tabulated below (all these tables are taken from files supplied by by Rob Dickinson. [8]):

Class 32 (originally Class 80)

Class 80, No. 8002. [25]

The Class 32(80) 0-6-0 locos were built for the EAR&H by John Fowler & Co Engineers of Leathley Road, Hunslet, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK. The company produced traction engines and ploughing implements and equipment, as well as railway equipment. [10] The image immediately below is taken from a series of photographs placed on-line by Rob Dickinson. [8]Class 32 at Nairobi Railway Museum. [9]3206 Fowler 0-6-0 diesel shunter at the Railway Technical Institute, Nairobi. Probably one of the oldest surviving diesel locomotives in East Africa. [11]The loco diagram above is from a series of pictures taken by Rob Dickinson at the Nairobi Shed. [12]111447: No. 3204 at Nairobi Kenya Railway Workshops, (c) Weston Langford. [22]

Class 33 (originally Class 81)

Locomotives of this class were supplied by the Drewry Car Co.

Drewry & Sons ran a motor and cycle repair business in Herne Hill, London, and started building BSA engined inspection railcars. A ready market was found in South America, Africa, and India. Drewry Car Co Ltd was registered on 27 November 1906. In 1908 BSA (of motor-cycle fame) took over building the railcars at Small Heath, Birmingham. In 1911 building was taken over by Baguley Cars Ltd, Burton-on-Trent. From 1930 a lot of Drewry locomotives were built by English Electric companies. In 1962 Drewry acquired a controlling interest in what had become E E Baguley Ltd, and formed Baguley-Drewry Ltd in 1967, thus once again building its own locomotives, in Burton-on-Trent. The company closed in 1984. [10]

Locomotive diagram for Class 33. [12]

Class 34 (originally Class 82)

The Class 34 locos were Hunslet 0-6-0 designs. The Hunslet Engine Company was founded in 1864 in Hunslet, Leeds, England. The company manufactured steam-powered shunting locomotives for over 100 years, and currently manufactures diesel-engined shunting locomotives. [13]

Locomotive diagram for Class 34. [12]

Class 35

The Class 35 locos were Andrew Barclay 0-6-0 diesel shunters. Andrew Barclay Sons & Co. are a builder of steam and later fireless and diesel locomotives. The company’s history dates to foundation of an engineering workshop in 1840 in Kilmarnock, Scotland. After a long period of operation the company was acquired by the Hunslet group in 1972 and renamed Hunslet-Barclay; in 2007 the company changed hands after bankruptcy becoming Brush-Barclay as part of the FKI Group. In 2011 Brush Traction and Brush-Barclay were acquired from FKI by Wabtec – as of 2012 the company still operates in Kilmarnock providing rail engineering services as Wabtec Rail Scotland. [14]

3505 Barclay 0-6-0 diesel-hydraulic shunter by the workshop at Nairobi. [11]Locomotive diagram for Class 35. [12]

Class 43 (originally Class 83)

These locos were built by the North British Locomotive Company. The North British Locomotive Company (NBL, NB Loco or North British) was created in 1903 through the merger of three Glasgow locomotive manufacturing companies; Sharp, Stewart and Company (Atlas Works), Neilson, Reid and Company (Hyde Park Works) and Dübs and Company(Queens Park Works), creating the largest locomotive manufacturing company in Europe and the British Empire. [15]

Its main factories were located at the neighbouring Atlas and Hyde Park Works in central Springburn, as well as the Queens Park Works in Polmadie. A new central Administration and Drawing Office for the combined company was completed across the road from the Hyde Park Works on Flemington Street by James Miller in 1909, later sold to Glasgow Corporation in 1961 to become the main campus of North Glasgow College (now Glasgow Kelvin College).

The two other Railway works in Springburn were St. Rollox railway works, owned by the Caledonian Railway and Cowlairs railway works, owned by the North British Railway. Latterly both works were operated by British Rail Engineering Limited after rail nationalisation in 1948. [15]

Class 43, No. 4306 0-8-0 in its later guise as No. 8306. [8]111567: No. 43110 at Mombasa, (c) Weston Langford. [22]Class 43 Locomotive Diagram. [12]

Class 44 (originally Class 84)

This 0-8-0 class was also built by the North British Locomotive Company.111593: No. 4402 alongside No. 87 42 at Kilindini Locomotive Depot, (c) Weston Langford. [22]

Class 45 (originally Class 85)

Still another North British 0-8-0 class of loco.111573:  Shunter No. 4503 at Mombasa, (c) Weston Langford [22]111615: Shunter No. 4504 moving No. 2410 at Voi, (c) Weston Langford. [22]Class 85, No. 8503 (later Class 45, No. 4503) working dead Class 90 (later Class 87) diesel electric to Makadara MPD, (c) Iain Mulligan [1]

Class 46 (originally Class 86)

The Class 46 (86) 0-8-0 central cab locos were built for the EAR&H by Andrew Barclay Sons & Co.

Class 86, No. 8607. [24]111396: No. 4622 alongside No. 8714 at Nairobi, (c) Weston Langford. [22]111576: No. 4615 alongside Westbound Goods  pulled by No. 3110 Bakiga. The picture is taken from Nairobi East Box (c) Weston Langford. [22]Class 46 shunter re-positioning cabooses at Nairobi Station. [16]

Class 61

Henschel starThese locos were supplied by Henschel & Son (German: Henschel und Sohn), a German company, located in Kassel, best known during the 20th century as a maker of transportation equipment, including locomotives, trucks, buses and trolleybuses, and armoured fighting vehicles and weapons.

Georg Christian Carl Henschel founded the factory in 1810 at Kassel. His son Carl Anton Henschel founded another factory in 1837. In 1848, the company began manufacturing locomotives. The factory became the largest locomotive manufacturer in Germany by the 20th century. [17]

Diesel-hydraulic locomotive No. 6107 working an up-country freight in 1975. Ten of these Henschel built Class 61 locomotives entered service in 1972 and in 1975/6 were generally in use on branch-lines. [18]

Class 71 (originally Class 91)

This Class was supplied by English Electric.

Class 72

This Class was also supplied by English Electric.

Class 79

There was just one locomotive in this class. No. 7901 was supplied as an experimental type by AEI Lister-Blackmore. Looking at the export market in the late 1950s British Tomson-Houston (BTH), with Clayton and Lister-Blackstone commissioned the Explorer CM-gauge prototype, which was ready in 1959. This featured a Lister-Blackstone engine, BTH electrical equipment and mechanical parts by established partner Clayton. Possibly Lister-Blackstone saw this as a pathway into the mainline locomotive market, as the cost was shared between itself and BTH. [19]

At 1100 hp (gross), with Co-Co running gear and weighing 72 long tons, the Explorer may be compared with standard shunters from the major worldwide builders. Previous engine partner Paxman offered high-speed engines which were in a lower power range than needed for the Explorer. The Alco DL531 was slightly lighter (in CM-gauge form) and marginally less powerful, at 975 hp (gross). The GE U9C was somewhat heavier and had a nominal power of 990 hp (gross), but this was a high-altitude, high-ambient temperature rating, and the UIC number was 1060 hp. The Alco & GE utilised 6-cylinder in-line engines, whereas the Lister-Blackstone featured the relatively complex 12-cylinder double-bank form, albeit still medium-speed. This complexity allied to its weight put it at an immediate major disadvantage. There were no production orders from this prototype. [23]

In 1959 EMD did not yet have a six-motor model in this power class. English Electric no doubt could have offered a Co-Co version of its existing eight-cylinder Latin American model with either the 8SRKT or 8SVT engine, by 1959 delivering 1100 hp. And more power would have been available from the 8CSRKT or 8CSVT engine with but minor weight penalty. Within two years Alco offered the DL535, delivering 1350 hp (gross), still with six cylinders, and weighing around 72 long tons in CM-gauge form. [19]

The Explorer was built by the Clayton Company of Hatton, Derbyshire, order number 3548 of January 1959, it was powered by a Lister Blackstone ERS.12T 12 cylinder twin-bank engine powering BTH electrics. Cylinders were 8.75 x 11.5 inches, maximum crankshaft speed was 800rpm, output speed through the phasing gears was 1,320rpm providing 1,100hp. Either crankshaft could be uncoupled in an emergency.

The locomotive weighed 72tons and rode on metre gauge Co-Co bogies of rubber cone pivot Alsthom style. Alsthom (originally ALS-Thom(son)) had a similar relationship with GE as did BTH, and it appeared that design ideas also travelled ‘horizontally’ between GE ‘associates’. This aspect of the Explorer design was carried over to the later AEI Zambesi type.

It was leased to the East African Railways who later bought it outright. In the late 1960s EAR reclassification it was assigned Class 79. It was allotted to the Kenya Railways in 1977, though by October of that year it was recorded as ‘stabled for scrap’ on the roster. [19]As of 2005, the ‘Explorer’ locomotive still exists, very much intact and still bearing its number and nameplates. It is earmarked for the Nairobi Railway Museum when funds become available. [19][20]Class 79, No. 7901 Explorer AEI Lister-Blackmore Co-Co at the Railway Technical Institute, Nairobi, still displaying the faded remnants of the EAR&H maroon livery and cast letters. Now confirmed as destined for the museum. [11]Unique pioneer diesel Class 79, No. 7901 ‘Explorer’ at Nairobi (c) Iain Mulligan. [1]No. 7901 ‘Explorer’ at the purpose built diesel depot at Makadara on 31 July 1962 (c) Iain Mulligan. [1]Green and yellow liveried Class 79 ‘Explorer’ at Nairobi Shed, alongside a Class 13, No. 1308, a Class 59 can just be seen in the shed (c) Anthony Potterton. [1]

Class 87 (originally Class 90)Pictures and details of this 1-Co-Co-1 Class of Diesel-Electric are shown above.Class 87, No 8701 English Electric 1Co-Co1 delivered in 1960. Lead locomotive of a class of 44 of which 11 are still in working order. They are normally confined to the Nakuru-Kisumu section of the main line. 8701 is seen abandoned at Nakuru, still painted in the later EAR&H green and yellow livery. [11]A double-header goods train close to Nairobi. Class 87s in green and yellow livery (c) Kevin Patience. [18]111393 No. 8714 at Nairobi, (c) Weston Langford. [22]111395: No 8714 at Nairobi Kenya, on the 1030am Kampala Mail, (c) Weston Langford. [22]111396: No. 8714 at Nairobi alongside shunter No. 4622, (c) Weston Langford. [22]

Class 88

The Class 88 locomotives were lighter cousins of the Class 92 locos below. In all, 20 units were delivered to the EAR&H. [18] They were built by the Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW), a Canadian railway locomotive manufacturer which existed under several names from 1883 to 1985, producing both steam and diesel locomotives. For a number of years it was a subsidiary of the American Locomotive Company. MLW’s headquarters and manufacturing facilities were located in Montreal, Quebec. [21]

In 1975, the emerging Quebec based Bombardier purchased a 59% stake in MLW from Studebaker-Worthington. Under Bombardier, the MLW organization continued locomotive design into the early 1980s, and also benefited from its geographic location. During the 1970s, Bombardier began to enter the railway passenger coach/locomotive business with domestic orders for commuter and subway systems. Based on a prototype trainset constructed in the mid-1970s, in 1980 MLW began production of a fleet of high-speed diesel-powered passenger locomotives for the LRC (Light, Rapid, Comfortable) passenger trains being built for the newly created federal Crown corporation Via Rail. Similar equipment was also used briefly by Amtrak.The last of the locomotives were retired from service in 2001. [21]

Class 92

This Class was also supplied by the Montreal Locomotive Works. There were 15 locomotives, they were diesel-electrics and were delivered in 1971 for main line service. [18]Class 92, No. 9211 heads a Uganda bound freight train. [18]No. 9212 undergoes maintenance at Nairobi workshops. [18]


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The Uganda Railway – Part 25 – Locomotives and Rolling Stock – Part C (Steam – 1948 to 1977)

Steam Locomotives on the East African Railways and Harbours Lines (1948 – 1977)

Until 1948, the Kenya and Uganda Railways and Harbours (KURH) Corporation ran harbours, railways and lake and river ferries in Kenya Colony and the Uganda Protectorate. It included the Uganda Railway, which it extended from Nakuru to Kampala in 1931. [1]

In 1948, it was merged with the Tanganyika Railway to form the East African Railways and Harbours Corporation (EAR&H which provided rail, harbour and inland shipping services in all three territories until the East African High Commission’s successor, the East African Community, was dissolved by its member states in 1977. [1]

As well as running railways and harbours in the three territories it ran inland shipping services on Lake VictoriaLake KyogaLake Albert, the Victoria Nile and the Albert Nile. [2]

The Malayan Railway sold EAR&H eight USATC S118 Class steam locomotives in 1948, and another eight in 1949. EAR&H converted them to oil fuel and numbered them 2701–2716, making them the 27 class. EAR&H allocated them to its Tabora Depot on its Tanganyika section. They entered service in 1949 and 1950, working the lines to Mwanza, Kigoma and Mpanda, where their light axle loading was an advantage and their high firebox enabled them to run through seasonal flooding on the Kigoma and Mpanda branches. EAR&H built further S118 from spare parts in 1953 and numbered it 2717. EAR&H withdrew them from service in about 1965 and they were in Dar es Salaam awaiting scrapping in 1966. [3]

In 1955 and 1956, EAR&H introduced new and much more powerful steam locomotives for its Kenya and Uganda network: the 59 class Garratts. These were the mainstay of the section’s heaviest traffic until they started to be withdrawn from service between 1973 and 1980.

EAR&H extended the Uganda Railway from Kampala to Kasese in 1956 and thence to Arua in 1964. In 1962, it completed the northern Uganda railway from Tororo to Pakwach, thus superseding the Victoria Nile steamer service. [4]

This post focusses primarily on locomotives to be found within Kenya and Uganda. Those found primarily in Tanzania will need to be the subject of another series of posts in the future.

Older Classes of Locomotive

The network continued to make use of the best of the locomotives purchased by both the Uganda Railway and the Kenya Uganda Railways and Harbours Corporation. The EAR&H renumbered all of the older locomotives into a consistent numbering system. The first two digits of four referred to the class of locomotive and the second two digits to the number in the class.  Before we move on to the new purchases, here are a few images of the older locomotives on the system, furthger information about these classes can be found in the previous posts in this series:

Classes 10 to 19 were designated shunting locomotives; Classes 20-49, tender locomotives; Classes 50-79, articulated locomotives; and Class 80 and above, diesel locomotives.EAR Class 10, No. 1001 2-6-4 locomotive in live-steam 5″ gauge. [17]Class 11 2-6-2 Locomotive. [16]Class 11, No 1105 refuelling at Nairobi MPD, (c) Anthony Potterton. [10]Class 22, 4-8-0 No. 2216, built by North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow, Scotland, for the Uganda Railway (UR) and continued in use well into the life of the EAR. [8]Class 23, No. 2306 – a rare visitor to Nairobi, freshly turned out from the paint-shop in EAR livery, (c) Iain Mulligan. [13]Another Class 23, No. 2309 stabled ready for disposal along with a couple of diesel locomotives in Mombasa sidings (c) Kevin Patience. [9]Class 24, 4-8-0 No. 2449 outside Mombasa Shed, (c) Kevin Patience. [9]Class 24, No. 2402 on Nairobi Yard, in the background is one of the diners used on the overnight Nairobi-Mombasa service, (c) Geoff Pollard. [10]Class 24, No. 2428, on 1st of August, 1953, on the occasion of the opening of the first section of the Western Uganda extension from Kampala to Mityani. (See EAR&H Magazine Volume 1 No.6 Page 8ff), from the collection of A.J. Craddock. [21]We have already seen this picture of a Class 28 2-8-2 locomotive in the previous post in this series. It is included here as representative of this class which was popular with drivers and firemen throughout their time on the network. Class 28, No. 2804, ‘Kilifi,’ (c) A.J. Craddock. [21]The twenty Class 50 locomotives were almost identical to the two Class 51 locomotives. [23]

Class 50 being scrapped (c) A.J. Craddock. [21]Class 52 4-8-2 + 2-8-4 pre-Second World War Garratts were unusually built by North British. 5204 was the last survivor and was photographed on the triangle at Morogoro in 1967 en-route to Dar for scrapping. [24]

Class 54, EAR No. 5402. (Chris Greville collection). [18]The same locomotive from the collection of A.J. Craddock. [21]

Class 55, EAR No. 5505 at Nairobi Railway Museum. [19]

A Class 55 Garratt 4-8-2+2-8-4 awaiting its fate at Voi, (c) Kevin Patience. [9]Coal burning Class 56 Garratt still bearing its KUR&H Number. The first of the batch of KUR&H EC6 Class, this locomotive naturally became 5601. Six of these locomotives were delivered in 1949 pending the arrival of the 58s. After service on the Kenya-Uganda Section, they were banished to Tanganyika to replace the ex-Burma 55 Class which ended up in the Kenya-Uganda Section, (c) EAR&H Magazine. [13]

Class 56, No. 5603: “A Guide To Uganda” (Crown Agents, Curwin Press 1954) shows a 56 Class, 5603, at a station between Kampala and Jinja. The 56s were replaced by the 60s in 1954-5, (c) East African Railways and Harbours. [22]Class 56, No. 5605 preparing to depart from the docks area in Dar. [24]

The Class 57 stands in Nairobi Railway Museum yard, painted in the grey livery of the Kenya Uganda Railway. [25]

The Locomotives Introduced by the EAR&H

The EAR&H had tenure of the whole network for over 29 years. During this time new locomotives were bought and others were moved around the East African system. This next section of this post focusses primarily on the classes of locomotives that were new to the Kenyan and Ugandan rails.

Class 58 Garratt Locomotives

The EAR 58 class was a class of 4-8-4+4-8-4 Garratt-type locomotives built by Beyer, Peacock & Co. in Manchester, England, in 1949. The eighteen members of the class were ordered by the Kenya-Uganda Railway (KUR) immediately after World War II, and were a slightly modified, oil-burning version of the KUR’s existing coal-fired EC3 class. By the time the new locomotives were built and entered service, the KUR had been succeeded by the East African Railways and Harbours Corporation (EAR&H), which designated the coal-fired EC3s as its 57 class, and the new, oil-burning EC3s as its 58 class.[8] Wikipedia informs us that the early numbers in this class arrived in East Africa in time to receive their KUR numbers (Nos. 89-95, later Nos. 5801-5807). The first of the Class to arrive too late to receive their designated KUR number was No. 5808. The full Class 58 bore the numbers 5801 to 5818.

Class 58 No. 5803 at Changamwe, Kenya, with the Mombasa–Kampala mail train, circa 1950-51. [7]Class 58, No. 5807 (c) Kevin Patience. [20]Class 58, No. 5804 was unique in that it had the letters EAR&H on its tenders rather than EAR. It is seen here about to depart the high level platform at Kampala with the mail train for Nairobi in 1962. [14][22] And again below, (c) Geoff Pollard. [5]

Class 59 Garratt Locomotives

The EAR 59 class was a class of oil-fired 1,000 mm gauge Garratt-type articulated steam locomotives. The 34 members of the class were built by Beyer, Peacock & Co. in Manchester, England, for the East African Railways (EAR). They entered service in 1955–56, and at 252 tons, were the largest, heaviest and most powerful steam locomotives to operate on any metre-gauge railway in the world

Class 59 Garratt taking water at Kibwezi in Kenya. [2]Class 59 No. 5909 near Mombasa. [12]Class 59 No. 5925 “Mount Monduli.”  [6]An unidentified Class 59 and a Class 24 in front of Mombasa Shed, © Kevin Patience. [9]Class 59, No. 5918, ‘Mount Gelai’ (c) Lou Johnson, taken on Nairobi loco shed in December 1977. “Mount Gelai” was always kept in immaculate condition by a dedicated crew of two Indian drivers and two African firemen who shared the 24 hour journey between Nairobi and Mombasa resting in a caboose attached to the train when off duty. The cab was pristine with polished brass. Linoleum floor and many other non-standard features. Kirpal Singh and Walter Pinto were the drivers but the fireman were just as dedicated to the task of keeping this 250 ton metre-gauge giant in superb condition. [11]

It was this loco which was refurbished and brought back into steam in the very early years of 21st Century as these youtube videos attest:



Class 60 Garratt Locomotives

The EAR Class 60, also known as the Governor class, was a class of 4-8-2+2+8-4 Garratts built for the EAR&H as a development of the EAR&H’s existing Class 56 Garratts. [8, p77]

The 29 members of the class were ordered by the EAR&H from Beyer, Peacock & Co. The first 12 of them were built by sub-contractors Société Franco-Belge in Raismes(Valenciennes), France, and the rest were built by Beyer, Peacock in GortonManchester, England. The class entered service in 1953-54. Initially, all members of the class carried the name of a Governor (or equivalent) of KenyaTanganyika or Uganda, but later all of the Governor nameplates were removed. [8, p77-78]

Line-up of East African Railways motive power at Nairobi MPD with 60 Class Garratt 6024 Sir James Hayes Saddler prominent left and 57/58 Class right. Five 59 Class Garratts, two 29 (Tribal) Class and two tank engines are also quite clearly discernable.  The post card was probably produced around 1955-6 – EAR&H Postcard via Cliff Rossenrode. [5]East African Railways class 60, 6002 (Franco-Belge Raismes 2984/1954, BP7655). (Chris Greville collection). [28]Class 60 No. 6029 near Mombasa.Class 60 No. 6006 after receiving a much needed repaint – taken in 2004 (c) Graham Roberts. [29]Class 60 No. 6008 Sir Wilfred Jackson with Giesel ejector at Nairobi. Most classes were refitted with Giesel ejectors which, although improving efficiency, arguably detracted from the appearance of the locomotive, (c) Kevin Patience. [5]No. 6022, formerly named Sir Andrew Cohen who was governor of Uganda in the mid 1950s.  Before independence all 29 in the class introduced in the 1953-4, with the first twelve built by Société Franco-Belge at Raismes in France due to the British manufacturer having no capacity to accept the complete order, (c) Anthony Potterton. [5]No 6012 at Kampala Shed, marked up as “reserved for museum”, a scheme that appears never to have come to fruition. The picture was taken  on 26/3/84 (c) tormaig. [30]No 6017: At the other end of the shed was the partially dismantled remains of another Garratt, 6017, whose boiler had been cut up in situ. Nearby is a class 31 boiler. No other steam locos were to be seen , although there were several bashed and battered diesels scattered around the shed. Picture taken on 26/3/84 (c) tormaig. [30]

These Garratt’s were the flagship locomotive of the fleet but they were by no means the only significant locomotive classes on the EAR&H. We have already noted the long-serving older locos but there were also a series of new purchases and transfers to the Uganda and Kenya lines.

New Steam!

Class 13

The EAR 13 class was a class of 4-8-2 T steam locomotives built by North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow, Scotland, for the East African Railways (EAR). The 18 members of the class were built in 1952 and entered service in 1953. They were later converted into 4-8-4 Ts, because of a tendency to de-rail when operating in reverse, using bogies (trucks) salvaged from EAR 50 class Garratt-type locomotives, which were then in the process of being withdrawn from service. [8, p78]

Class member 1315 was for many years an exhibit in the Nairobi Railway Museum. However, in the late 1990s the locomotive was removed by Kenya Railways and broken up for scrap after the boiler was re-purposed for use in the main railway works. [32]

Class 13 Tank Locomotive at Nairobi West, (c) Iain Mulligan. [31]Newly out-shopped Class 13 tank No. 1308 gets up steam – note the traditional green and white paintwork in the cab.  Note the absence of the front bogie [truck], (c) James Waite. [5] A further image of a Class 13, No. 1316 at Nairobi MPD can be found on flickr, © CPH3. [37]

Class 29

The EAR 29 class was a class of oil-burning 2-8-2 steam locomotives based upon the Nigerian Railways River class. The 31 members of the 29 class were built for the East African Railways (EAR) in two batches, of 20 (in the years 1950 and 1951) and 11 locomotives (in the year 1955) respectively, by North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow, Scotland. [8, p80f]Tribal Class 2930 Tiriki ahead of two 13 Class tank engines and a 5912 Mount Oldeani on the re-fuelling roads. Mount Oldeani can be distinguished by its unique smoke deflectors.  It also had an experimental blast pipe arrangement, ©  James Waite. [5]East African Railways – EAR 29 Class 2-8-2 steam locomotive No. 2908 “Elgeyo” in Nairobi Shed, December 1967. [38]Class 29 locomotive 2913 Kamasia, later Tugen behind the unidentifiable Class 31. Tanzania Railways had about a dozen Class 31 locomotives which were built between 1955 and 1956 by Vulcan Foundry, © David Addis. [39]Class 29, No. 2921 “Masai of Kenya” at Nairobi Ralway Museum. The loco was built in Glasgow. [41]

Class 30

The EAR 30 class was a class of oil-burning 2-8-4 steam locomotives. The class was built in 1955 by North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow, Scotland, for the East African Railways (EAR). Its design was derived from the 2-8-2 EAR 29 class, which, in turn, was based upon the Nigerian Railways River class. [8, p81]

The 26 members of the class served their entire careers in Tanganyika/Tanzania, one of the three territories/countries served by the EAR.[36, p81]In 2003, Beyer Garratt No. 5918 was joined by this 2-8-4, Class 30 No. 3020 on a roster of available locomotives for steam journeys on the system in the early 21st Century.  Also rescued in decrepit condition from the museum, these locos can operate passenger excursions and the occasional revenue freight out of Nairobi. The loco is pictured in December 2004 at Kikuyu, © Trevor Heath. [40]

The video immediately above covers movements of a variety of different classes of locomotive on East African metals between Mombasa and Nairobi. The video above it shows Class 30 No. 3020 operating in the early years of the 21st Century in its restored state.

Class 31

The EAR 31 class was a class of oil-burning 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) gauge 2-8-4 steam locomotives. The 46 members of the class were built in 1955 by Vulcan Foundry, in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire (now part of Merseyside), England, for the East African Railways (EAR). They were a lighter, branch-line version of the EAR 30 class, and worked from various sheds throughout the EAR system. [8, p80ff][36, p83]A 1/4 scale replica of Vulcan built East African Railways Class 31 locomotive. It has been built to be as an exact a replica as can be achieved albeit running on Kerosene rather than heavy oil with all the controls etc being scaled down from the original from works drawings. This powerful 10 1/4 inch gauge locomotive is a regularly works on the Stapleford railway and both the railway and the loco’s owner would love to hear from anyone that was involved with the  31 class build or operation although I guess they would be very old now! The loco is owned by John Wilks , © John Wilks. [42]East African Railways Class 31, No. 3101 at its naming ceremony. [35]Class 31, No. 3105 ‘Bagisu’ has just been out-shopped in Nairobi, © Anthony Potterton. [5]Class 31 No. 3130 Karamojong, © Anthony Potterton [5]

A dirty Tribal Class 31 No. 3133 ‘Lango’ with a very clean Class 29 behind © Anthony Potterton [5]


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