Uganda Railway

The Uganda Railway is a railway system linking the interiors of Uganda and Kenya to the Indian Ocean at Mombasa in Kenya. The line started at the port city of Mombasa in 1896 and reached Kisumu in 1901 on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria.

After the First World War the main line was continued from Nakuru towards Uganda reaching Kampala in 1931. A branch line was built in Kenya linking the main line to Lake Magadi in 1915. Another went to central Kenya reaching Thika in 1913, Naro Moro in 1927 and finally Mount Kenya in 1931. Another went to Kitale in western Kenya in 1926. By 1929 another branch line was built in from Tororo to Soroti in northern Uganda. Another went to Kasese in western Uganda in 1965. It was extended to Arua near the border with Zaire in 1964.

The railway is metre gauge and virtually all single-track. It was built by the British East Africa Company using labour mainly brought in from British India. The working and living conditions were bad and many died through disease or attack by wild animals as the films The Man-eaters of Tsavo, Bwana Devil and The Ghost and the Darkness depict. Crossing the 450 metre tall escarpment of the Rift Valley was a major technical problem. The railway cost around 5 million pounds and the first services started in 1903.

The Asian workers were the first of many who emigrated to the region bringing much needed technical and entrepreneurial skills. Idi Amin expelled all the Asians resident in Uganda in 1972. Many remain in Kenya and Tanzania although many others have moved to the United Kingdom and other countries of the British Commonwealth.

Despite being called "the Lunatic Line" by its detractors, the railway was a huge logistical achievement and became strategically and economically vital for both Uganda and Kenya. It was used in the suppression of slavery and in the First World War campaign against General Paul Erich von Lettow-Vorbeck in German East Africa, modern Tanzania. The railway allowed heavy equipment to be transported far inland with relative ease. Up until that time the main form of transport in the interior was ox-drawn wagon. The railway also allowed coffee and tea to be exported and encouraged colonial settlement and other types of commerce.

The focusing effect of railway junctions and depots created many of the interior's modern towns and ports, such as:

The state of the modern railway in Uganda is not as impressive as those early achievements. Only the 5 mile, 8 km line between Kampala and Port Bell and the 120 mile main line from Kampala to the Kenyan border at Tororo remain in use. In 1989, government soldiers massacred sixty civilians at Mukura railway station.

The modern railway in Kenya, although it still operates and is an economic lifeline to the surrounding countries, has many problems. Lack of safety is a major concern. In 1993, 114 perished in a passenger train which plunged into a river after floods washed away a bridge. In 1999, 32 died at Tsavo National park when brakes on a passenger train failed making it derail. In 2000, 13 died near Kisumu after a passenger train rolled back due to failed brakes. In 2000, at least 25 were burnt to death after a goods train carrying gas exploded. The maximum speed of trains on the railway is 30 miles / 45 km per hour.

A related article on the Lake Victoria ferries details the transport of steel ferries from Europe at the beginning of the 1900s, in parts, and their construction on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Similar railways were built in Tanzania by the Germans when the country was German East Africa, the British when it was Tanganyika and the Chinese in modern Tanzania.

After WWI the railway systems of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania evolved into the East African Railways and Harbours Corporation which broke up in the 1970s when the East African Community dissolved.

See also

Tanzania Railway Corporation

External links

History of the Uganda Railway (


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