Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

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rogerfarnworth
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Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by rogerfarnworth » Sat May 12, 2018 10:43 am

My wife and I are in Uganda at the moment (9th May 2018), I have been here a number of times before. The national railway system is metre-gauge. I hope this first post is of interest to members of this forum.

https://rogerfarnworth.wordpress.com/20 ... ays-part-1" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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

https://rogerfarnworth.wordpress.com/category/uganda" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

rogerfarnworth
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Re: Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by rogerfarnworth » Sat May 12, 2018 11:01 am

This second post provides some more information about the history of what is often called 'The Lunatic Line'.

https://rogerfarnworth.wordpress.com/20 ... ays-part-2" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

george matthews
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Re: Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by george matthews » Sat May 12, 2018 7:15 pm

rogerfarnworth wrote:My wife and I are in Uganda at the moment (9th May 2018), I have been here a number of times before. The national railway system is metre-gauge. I hope this first post is of interest to members of this forum.

https://rogerfarnworth.wordpress.com/20 ... ays-part-1" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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

https://rogerfarnworth.wordpress.com/category/uganda" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
I have travelled to Uganda from Mombasa (1965). And have travelled in Uganda and to Kenya.
You may notice that a new Standard Gauge route is planned. I wonder if there are any signs of work going to prepare for the building. The new route is being built by a Chinese company. It will pass through to Rwanda and perhaps enter the Congo.

johnthefireman
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Re: Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by johnthefireman » Sun May 13, 2018 2:45 am

Thanks, Roger, for gathering together all this interesting material. I lived and worked in Uganda in the 1970s but those were the Idi Amin years and I didn't get to travel and see much of the railways. I've been in and out of Uganda from time to time since then while working in South Sudan. I saw the end of the line at Pakwach around 1997, at that time closed and sadly neglected. There are a few photos posted on the Friends of the Rail Forum at http://www.friendsoftherail.com/forum/v ... .php?f=210" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

I see one of your posts includes Magadi in Kenya. I live in Kenya now, around 70km from Magadi by road, much closer as the crow flies - I can see the lake on a clear day. I last visited Magadi last year, and the railway is still going strong. We were able to visit the small railway workshop there - the main one is in Kajiado.

David Benton
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Re: Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by David Benton » Sun May 13, 2018 2:59 pm

Very interesting. We share the same birthday. Is it metre gauge,or cape gauge. I always thought the latter
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george matthews
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Re: Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by george matthews » Sun May 13, 2018 5:36 pm

David Benton wrote:Very interesting. We share the same birthday. Is it metre gauge,or cape gauge. I always thought the latter
East Africa had until recently an entirely Metre gauge network. I believe the cause is that the British had a surplus of metre gauge track in India - nearer for delivery than Britain (before the Suez Canal). And 100 years ago no-one imagined the need to join up all the countries in British and German Africa to southern Africa, hence requiring a common gauge. I am not sure why the Germans also chose the same gauge, for Tanganyika. But France also used Metre gauge in most of its territories.

It was only when the Cape gauge (3ft 6in) arrived from Zambia to Dar es Salaam that a gauge problem arose. Now we shall see whether more Standard Gauge links will be joined to the new Kenya-Uganda line. So far I don't think any are yet planned. As Ethiopia has replaced its Metre gauge line and installed a Standard gauge line one wonders whether a link to East Africa might follow. Next a link along the coast from Mombasa to Dar looks like a possible extension. And then a replacement for the line to Lake Tanganyika might be considered to replace the worn out German line.

johnthefireman
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Re: Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by johnthefireman » Sun May 13, 2018 11:49 pm

george matthews wrote:the British had a surplus of metre gauge track in India - nearer for delivery than Britain (before the Suez Canal)
I would say yes and no. The British did indeed have a surplus of metre gauge in India which was very convenient for delivery. But the Suez Canal opened in 1869, I believe, and the East African railway systems were only built in the closing years of the 19th century, so the Suez Canal was available for shipping if the British had desired to do so.
I am not sure why the Germans also chose the same gauge, for Tanganyika. But France also used Metre gauge in most of its territories.
Interesting question. I assume that the French and Germans did not use imperial measurements, so it would seem natural for them to choose a metric rather than an imperial gauge. My understanding is that the metric system arose out of the French Revolution in the late 18th century and was in widespread use in France by the middle of the 19th century. I don't know, though, when it was adopted in Germany.
Now we shall see whether more Standard Gauge links will be joined to the new Kenya-Uganda line. So far I don't think any are yet planned.
As far as I know there are plans in both East and West Africa to expand the standard gauge sytems to allow increased inter-operability between African nations. Most of the old metre and Cape Gauge railways were built to serve the needs of the colonial powers, not the needs of modern economies and growing populations, so there is a need to build new railways anyway, and I think the general feeling is that the new ones should be standard gauge. The exception is probably southern Africa, where there is an extensive and well-developed Cape Gauge system which serves the SADC economic block.

Currently I believe there are standard gauge systems already existing or about to be built in Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritania, Morocco, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda, possibly in the longer term Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan - that's around 30% of African nations. There is a long term plan (perhaps aspiration would be a better word) to build a cross-Africa standard gauge railway joining East to West Africa.

David Benton
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Re: Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by David Benton » Mon May 14, 2018 12:17 am

It seems to me the whim of the engineer in charge, had the most bearing in those days. Witness the mess in Australia. The idea that it was already cheaper to build and ship equipment from India back then is intriguing. But again , metre gauge in most of the Asian colonies, 1067mm in NZ and Australia. Maybe the sourcing of Labour from India , meant the use of engineers familiar with Indian equipment, therefore metre gauge. Economy of scale would be better these days if we were all the same gauge, maybe not such a big factor in those days.
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george matthews
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Re: Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by george matthews » Mon May 14, 2018 9:45 am

johnthefireman wrote:Currently I believe there are standard gauge systems already existing or about to be built in Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritania, Morocco, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda, possibly in the longer term Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan - that's around 30% of African nations. There is a long term plan (perhaps aspiration would be a better word) to build a cross-Africa standard gauge railway joining East to West Africa.
Geographically, the new line is pointing to the west, but politically, it is hard to imagine any transport going on in the Congo - whatever it is currently called. So that route for an east-west connection is very questionable. But so are all the others. Could a route go across the Sudans? Not very likely and there is instability in the CAR and Chad. Further south? There is the Congo again, an area of no government and no policing. It is hard to imagine even a construction company operating let alone an operating department. But the Chinese may have their intentions based on minerals from the Congo. Will they organise military cover to act with sufficient ruthlessness?

george matthews
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Re: Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by george matthews » Mon May 14, 2018 10:58 am

David Benton wrote:It seems to me the whim of the engineer in charge, had the most bearing in those days. Witness the mess in Australia. The idea that it was already cheaper to build and ship equipment from India back then is intriguing. But again , metre gauge in most of the Asian colonies, 1067mm in NZ and Australia. Maybe the sourcing of Labour from India , meant the use of engineers familiar with Indian equipment, therefore metre gauge. Economy of scale would be better these days if we were all the same gauge, maybe not such a big factor in those days.
Government in the Gladstone era was very penny pinching. I think the existence of Metre gauge equipment in India played a big part in their decisions about East Africa. At that time there was no Cape Gauge equipment nearer than Lusaka, or the Sudan. And of course no means of transporting it to Kenya other than sea voyage probably from Durban. And South Africa at that time was not unified.

rogerfarnworth
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Re: Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by rogerfarnworth » Mon May 14, 2018 11:31 am

This article appeared in the Daily Monitor in Uganda today.
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rogerfarnworth
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Re: Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by rogerfarnworth » Tue May 15, 2018 7:09 am

This third post in the series starts the journey along the 'Lunatic Line'.

https://rogerfarnworth.wordpress.com/20 ... ays-part-3" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

johnthefireman
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Re: Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by johnthefireman » Tue May 15, 2018 8:09 am

Thanks, Roger. I love the Mazeras spiral, although it's twenty years since I've been on it.

The new SGR station at Miritini is coming in for a lot of criticism. A train arrives and disgorges 1,200 passengers and immediately there is a scrum to get road transport to Mombasa. If your hotel has sent its own courtesy bus you might be OK, but all the other buses, matatus (minibuses), taxis, bodabodas (motorbike taxis) and probably even bicycles and pushcarts are up for grabs at whatever price you are willing to pay. Even if you've actually booked a taxi in advance you can't be sure that someone hasn't offered the driver a better price and off he goes without you. Rumour has it that the Chinese are now extending the SGR a few km closer to Mombasa, but who knows.

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Re: Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by johnthefireman » Tue May 15, 2018 8:25 am

This piece might be of interest: Rehabilitation Of The Tororo-Gulu Railway

I know we haven't reached Uganda yet on the journey, and as far as I can recall the Tororo-Gulu line was not part of the original Uganda Railway, but nevertheless it is part of the Uganda Railways metre gauge line.

george matthews
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Re: Uganda Railways - Metre Gauge

Post by george matthews » Tue May 15, 2018 10:35 am

johnthefireman wrote:This piece might be of interest: Rehabilitation Of The Tororo-Gulu Railway

I know we haven't reached Uganda yet on the journey, and as far as I can recall the Tororo-Gulu line was not part of the original Uganda Railway, but nevertheless it is part of the Uganda Railways metre gauge line.
In colonial days there was a short branch, to Mbale I think. It was the Milton Obote regime that extended it, into his ancestral territory (Nilotic speakers). I suspect that there was never economic justification for extending it, and in fact I don't think much traffic ever resulted. There used to be a daily third class train to the north, from Kampala via Tororo to Pakwach. The line was extended into the West Nile district, where there is hardly any industry, and no mines. The towns in the north - Gulu and Lira - did not have much or any industry and none developed. There might be benefit to building a SG line into South Sudan, which lacks transport out. Of course there is the same doubt about whether there is any demand for traffic, especially freight. And South Sudan is in a constant condition of civil war which shows no sign being resolved.

The other line from Kampala to the west was built to service a minerals mine at Kasese. It also had a daily third class passenger train and some freight. But the mine has closed and also, I think, service on the rail line. The SG line would replace it. But again, we must ask, is there any freight demand? I doubt if there is any demand in Uganda. The Chinese will hope for freight from the Congo, but are they likely to get any? Again, I doubt it. Civil war and in fact no government there, makes regular freight unlikely. As with the original colonial lines, the Chinese line is highly speculative and success would depend on industrial development.

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