rogerfarnworth wrote: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.
This post (below) is the penultimate post on the direct route from Mombasa to Kasese. After this there will be three further posts. One to complete the line to Kasese, one to review an old and defunct branch line running north from Jinja and a final post which will seek to cover the locomotives and rolling stock on the Uganda Railway .....
Before we take one of those intermittent passenger services from the last century, we take a good look round Kampala Railway Station.
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I do think that the various non-standard railways in Africa - and other areas - are on the way out. They were quite useful when they were busy. I travelled often on the metre gauge lines - all the main lines in East Africa. But there is no doubt that where railways continue there will be conversion to Standard gauge. Some of the old routes will be abandoned; others will be converted and new ones will be built. I think it true to note that all the Cape and Metre gauge routes outside South Africa are decaying. Some of them may be replaced by new Standard gauge routes. Some will simply be abandoned. The narrow gauge routes were all built in the colonial era with the same aim - to save money in the hope that their building costs would be less than for standard gauge. I think the savings in the long run were very modest.
Uganda has its own problems. Does it have an economy able to support a rail network? I don't think so. Its political problems have prevented economic development. As part of a loose federation, in colonial times, its railways were useful, and may well have been financed from outside the country. But note that only the route to Kampala was economically successful. The other routes were not. The Western line had some use to support the mine. The Northern route was a disaster urged on by Milton Obote, one of the most ignorant people to take over a former colony, only shown up by the even worse Idi Amin.
Uganda's chaotic post-colonial history has not been conducive to economic development. The breakup of the East African Community - a weak federation - was disastrous for Uganda, which suffered more from the loss than either of the other territories. The Museveni period has reduced the amount of fighting, and that is encouraging, but I don't think it has resulted in the economic gains the country needs. The most disastrous event was during the period of Idi Amin. He was an ignorant, brutal man - not unlike Donald Trump - who ruined the country. He expelled the Asian entrepreneurs who pioneered nearly all the economically useful projects of the 1960s. It was their activities which provided what freight there was on the railway. When they were expelled, and all their economic activities closed down, so went the possibility of freight for the railways.
Can any kind of modern economy revive? I am not optimistic. If there is no economy I don't see the Chinese railway being a success. What do the Chinese think it will carry? Nor do I see the Metre gauge railway surviving in an effective form. Your pictures show the Northern branch is derelict. I think the Western branch is also the same. Unless the Chinese can discover some freight that needs to be moved their line will go the same way. I compare their proposals with the line they built in Zambia. They built it take Zambia's copper to Dar es Salaam, to avoid Rhodesia, but the southern route was cheaper and the traffic to Dar was never a success - mainly due to lack of engineering maintenance and managerial incompetence. I would not be surprised if the same happens in East Africa. Perhaps if the Chinese stop in Kampala their line might succeed, at least to some extent. But only if some kind of economy develops in Uganda would it be sensible to build any further than Kampala. The current agricultural economy doesn't need more railways.
Moreover, the world economy has changed since railways first came to Africa. 100 years ago there were few roads and most of them were bad. There were no long distance lorries. Nowadays the east-west road is very busy carrying freight that used to go by train. Can the various railways compete with the lorries, many of them run in such a threadbare condition, but nevertheless, cheaper?
I can imagine a future in which the burning of oil is banned worldwide to prevent climatic catastrophe - yes, there is - and in that case Uganda would be ideally suitable for an electrified network. But not yet.