The Uganda Railway

  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

I have visited the continent of African on a number of occasions. Most often I have travelled to Uganda. My first trio in 1994 included a journey by train from Mombasa to Kampala.

I have long thought it would be good to document this line and its history. This has become significantly more pressing in the last few years as the metre-gauge line is gradually being replaced by a Chinese built standard-gauge line.

We start with an intreiguing narrow gauge tramway system in Mombasa.

While doing research on the route of the Mombasa line, I came across photographs and, in particular, old postcards that showed traces of a tramway or trolleyway in the streets of Mombasa in the late nineteenth century. I thought it needed more research and this blog is the result.

Sponsored advertisement

  bevans Site Admin

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Nice Roger, thanks
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

Kind of you to say so, bevans.

My wife and I were in Uganda again in 2018 (April/May), as mentioned in the post which starts this thread, I have been there a number of times before. The national railway system, and the old line to the coast at Mombasa, is metre-gauge.

I hope this first post about the "Uganda Railway" itself is of interest to members of this forum.

Other posts about the trip, but not railway related, can be found on this link:
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

This second post about the length of the "Uganda Railway" provides some more information about the history of what is often called "The Lunatic Line."
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

This post begins the journey along the 'Lunatic Line'. Forthcoming posts will take us along the mainline and down a number of the branches encountered along the way. We will hopefully also bide a while at Nairobi Railway Museum  and take the line down to Lake Victoria both in Kenya and Uganda. I hope you enjoy the journey.
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

This post covers the journey along the original Uganda Railway from Mazeras to Voi.

This is the next part of the story of the Uganda Railway. It covers the length from Voi to Ulu in Kenya.

In this post we travel from Ulu into Nairobi and notice two branch-lines on the way.

This next post focusses on the station at Nairobi and its immediate environment.
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

We are gradually getting closer to the eastern border of Uganda! This is the next post in the series and covers the stretch of the line from Nairobi to Lake Naivasha .....

Another leg of the journey on the Uganda Railway, whcih covers the length from Naivasha to Nakuru.

The next two posts cover the length of the old Uganda Railway to Kisumu and Butere. Originally, this line was of significant strategic importance. Trains along the line provided access to Lake Victoria and the inland steamers that then provided access to the Great Lakes region and to Kampala via Port Bell.

The construction of the line from Nakuru to Kampala and beyond changed things significantly and the old main line became a branch-line and has seen little traffic over recent years.

Before we return to Nakuru to follow the main line towards Kampala, one further post about the Kisumu line. There was a short branch which left the Kisumu to Nakuru line within the confines of Kisumu city. This post focusses on that line.
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

Back at Nakuru, we prepare ourselves to travel on to Kampala. This post takes us to Eldoret.

Eldoret is a junction station. The branch-line service to Kitale set off from Eldoret. We follow its route.

We really are now almost in Uganda!   The is the last post focussing on the Uganda Railway in Kenya. It takes us from Eldoret to the border with Uganda at Malaba.

Sadly, in this post there is little evidence of locomotives. The line has seen little use over the years. I was very fortunate to be able to travel 1st Class all the way from Mombasa to Kampala in 1994. I had no idea at the time how fragile that service was.

With this post we have crossed the border between Kenya and Uganda. Just across the border in Tororo the mainline divides to give a Kampala/Kasese route via Jinja, and a Pakwach and Aria route via Soroti. The more northerly route through Soroti was perceived as the branch but it has been the route which has been refurbished first (in 2013).

We will follow the branch first.
  Big J Deputy Commissioner

Location: In Paradise
Thankyou for posting. Travelled in Uganda in 1995. Unfortunately how I travelled meant I didn’t see much rail. Did go to the railway stations at Jinja (wagons present) and Kasese (end of the line) felt abandoned in a town that felt like it was the Wild West in Africa.
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

Hi, I have travelled the line as far as Kampala from Mombasa. I have never been to Kasese. In 1994, I spent 6 hours sitting on a train at Jinja Station because the goods train ahead of us has derailed.

I stayed relatively close to the line to Kasese in farmland to the East of Fort Portal this year.
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

Two more posts about the branch-line to Gulu and Arua. The first takes us from Soroti to Gulu.

The second covers the length to the end of the branch-line.
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

We have now returned to the mainline at Tororo and are heading on toward Kampala.

The story continues .... "We leave Tororo is a north-westerly direction following the contours on the north side of the Nagongera Road as far as Achilet (about 5 kilometres outside of Tororo). For the next 10 kilometres the railway stays north of the road until reaching Nagongera, or Nagongora, .............."

Of interest is the number of railway lines on the map between Tororo and Jinja. There is by far the greatest density of lines in Uganda.
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

The journey continues from Jinja to Kampala .......

The Nile River Bridge at Jinja was built in the late 1920s. It is perhaps the iconic structure for the whole of the metre-gauge railway system from Mombasa to Kasese.

The first railway in Uganda ran from Jinja to Namasagali on the Victoria Nile where a steamer service ran on to Masindi Port.  From there passengers travelled by road through Masindi to Butiaba on Lake Albert. From there they could travel on by steamer to the Belgian Congo or north to Juba in the Sudan.

Train passengers from Kenya reached Uganda by steamer from the railhead at Kisumu and across Lake Victoria to Entebbe or Port Bell.  In the mid 1920s the main line in Kenya was extended from Nakuru through Eldoret, and Tororo to Mbulamuti where it met up with the original Jinja to Namasagali line.  The new line to Kampala then crossed the Nile at Jinja by a bridge carrying both the railway and a roadway underneath.

The last part of my own journey to Kampala by train in 1994 commenced once a derailed freight train had been rerailed ahead of us and the passenger train was ‘given the road'. We had waited for over 6 hours at Jinja Railway Station. Travelling by rail was unreliable but really enjoyable!!
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

We are now in Kampala and preparing to travel on to Kasese.

In 1994, I attempted to travel to Kasese and I might have been able to do so if I was prepared to wait in Kampala for the possiblity that a train migth run. In the end my trip to the South West of Uganda was much better served by a road journey via Masaka, Mbarara and Kabale.

Before we take one of those intermittent passenger services from the last century, we take a good look round Kampala Railway Station.

This post (above) is the penultimate post on the direct route from Mombasa to Kasese. After this there will be two further posts. One to complete the line to Kasese, one to review an old and defunct branch line running north from Jinja.

Finally there will be posts which will seek to cover the locomotives and rolling stock on the Uganda Railway .....
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

This next post relates to the western extension of the Uganda Railway through to Kasese and the Kilembe Mines.

The Western Extension, as it was known, was built and opened in the mid-1950s, its main target was to reach the Kilembe Copper Mines in the west of Uganda. Kasese was built alongside the Mines and has grown since then into a reasonable size town with industry and tourism building its economy.

Official sanction for building the railway to Mityana was given in 1951, and for the continuation to Kasese in 1952. The decision rested upon a guaranteed source of traffic at Kilembe, and was prompted by the fact that mining development was dependent on some positive step to improve communications. There seemed little doubt that the line would attract some Congo traffic, which would provide new revenue for E.A.R. & H., while the Uganda Government was much encouraged by the very favourable report of an Economic Survey Committee. The concluding sentence of the report reflects the tone of the whole: ‘The committee desires to record its firm conviction that this project will prove eminently successful. and contribute materially to the welfare and prosperity of the people of Uganda”. The capital cost of the extension was £5.25 million, and the Uganda Government provided the Railway Administration with a loan to cover this.
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

This is the last post relating directly to the lines of the Uganda Railway and covers the first railway built in Uganda. The last post on the Uganda Railway will cover the locomotives and rolling stock on the network.

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

There is much to explore in the Great Lakes region in Africa! This series of posts relates only to the railways providing access to Uganda but there were a whole variety of different transport services in the area which would warrant further study!
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

My original plan was to provide details of locomotives and rolling stock on the Railway in a single post. This has become a little unwieldy so further posts will follow this one ...

As I began to review the available information in books and on the internet, it seemed that there was enough material to justify more than one post. This and the following posts will not be fully comprehensive in nature but I hope that they provide some insights that are valuable.

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

Early Locomotives on the Uganda Railway (1896-1926)
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

The first of these posts about locomotives and rolling stock on the railways of Uganda and Kenya covered locomotives used by the Uganda Railway. This second post primarily covers locomotives introduced by the Kenya Uganda Railway up until it handed over to the East African Railways Corporation in 1948.

Locomotives on the Kenya and Uganda Railway and Harbours Lines (1927- 1948)

In 1926/27 the Uganda Railway was replaced first by the Kenya and Uganda Railways in 1926 and then by the Kenya and Uganda Railways and Harbours (KURH) Corporation in 1927, when the powers-that-be placed Mombasa Harbour into the same company as the railways.

Kenya and Uganda Railways and Harbours (KURH) ran harbours, railways and lake and river ferries in Kenya Colony and the UgandaProtectorate until 1948. It included the Uganda Railway, which it extended from Nakuru to Kampala in 1931. In the same year it built a branch line to Mount Kenya. [1]

The Kenya Uganda Railway introduced Beyer-Garratt locomotives to the network. These were massive machines with huge pulling power which suited the lightly constructed lines on which they ran.
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

One of the small snippets of information I have encountered while writing the series of posts on the Uganda Railway and its successors is an almost passing comment made in a number of texts about the Kenya Uganda Railway Beyer-Garratts numbered 41-44, 51 and 53. These comments refer to these locomotives being sold to Indo-China.

Someone asked me whether there was any information about what happened to these locos in any of the main texts about the metre-gauge lines in East Africa. The only specific reference appears to relate to the locos going to the 'Yunnan Railway'.

It might be that others can shed more light on this, but I thought that it was worth following up. The post below is the result of this.
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

This is the third post about Locomotives and Rolling Stock on the network of lines in Uganda and Kenya.

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, further information about these classes can be found in the previous posts in this series.

Very sadly, so very few of these locomotives have survived in any form, let alone in a condition to continue to run on the network.
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

The East African Railways and Harbours Corporation began to look at replacing its steam locomotives with more modern power units. This next post is part of that story.

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.
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

Two posts remain to complete the story of the line. This is the first of these. It brings the story of the line up to date (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; Uganda Railways Corporation; and Tanzania Railways Corporation. 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.

Very sadly, at least from a heritage perspective, the metre-gauge line and its trains have largely been replaced between Nairobi and Mombasa. No doubt the new trains are infinitely better. But their advent has brought to an end the real sense of adventure that travelling the metre-gauge line from Mombasa to Nairobi evoked!
  rogerfarnworth Train Controller

I anticipate that this is the final post in this series about Uganda Railway and its successors.  I trust that you have enjoyed these posts. If you have, then I have been posting about metre-gauge lines in France and you might wish to look at those posts in due course!

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.
  TomBTR Chief Train Controller

Location: near Sydney
One of the small snippets of information I have encountered while writing the series of posts on the Uganda Railway and its successors is an almost passing comment made in a number of texts about the Kenya Uganda Railway Beyer-Garratts numbered 41-44, 51 and 53. These comments refer to these locomotives being sold to Indo-China.

Someone asked me whether there was any information about what happened to these locos in any of the main texts about the metre-gauge lines in East Africa. The only specific reference appears to relate to the locos going to the 'Yunnan Railway'.

It might be that others can shed more light on this, but I thought that it was worth following up. The post below is the result of this.

An interesting read, hard to believe but almost worth a visit to Yunnan to look for relics.
  Dangersdan707 Chief Commissioner

Location: On a Thing with Internet
Roger, do you know if there are still Any operational meter gauge steamers in kenya and Uganda? International steam and other sites claim so but there have Been No updates for some time and WIth The Chinese SG i Would think they have an uncertain future.

Sponsored advertisement

Subscribers: bevans, rogerfarnworth, TomBTR

Display from: