A 900-tonne cargo ship docked for the first time in more than ten years at Port Bell in Kampala on Tuesday, signalling efforts are in earnest to revamp the Central Corridor trade and transport route.
The Tanzanian registered vessel, MV Umoja, had sailed from the northern Tanzania's Mwanza port on Lake Victoria.
The Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) said the resumption of operations on the lake offers an alternative route to traders importing or exporting goods through the Northern Corridor that links the port of Mombasa in Kenya to landlocked Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.
“We want to tell our clients that both routes are now feasible,” URC head of operations Mr Abubaker Ochaki told The EastAfrican.
The Central Corridor links Tanzania's Dar es Salaam port to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo through rail, road and inland waterways.
Mr Ochaki said it costs traders $65 per tonne to deliver cargo from Dar to Kampala compared to about $90 per tonne on the Northern Corridor.
According to URC, it took four days from an initial target of five days to deliver cargo from Dar es Salaam to Port Bell.
“There can be delays, but this shows we are still able to deliver cargo within our target times,” Mr Ochaki said.
Ugandan abandoned the Central Corridor route when the former rail services concessionaire, Rift Valley Railways (RVR), took over the business in 2006.
MV Umoja is now expected to make 26 trips a month, Mr Ochaki told The EastAfrican.
The vessel has 22 wagons (about 40 containers).
Mr Ochaki said URC's MV Kaawa, which had been grounded since 2005, will resume operations to join MV Umoja.
Ugandan ships, MV Kaawa and MV Pamba, were withdrawn from maritime service in 2005 after MV Kaawa collided with sister vessel MV Kabalega leading to the sinking of the latter.
After several years, MV Kaawa was repaired but remained grounded “because RVR wasn’t interested in that side of the business”, Mr Ochaki said.
RVR's concession was terminated last year.