Ugandan old railway line rehabilitation on track

Sunday January 14 2024

A railway line in Kampala, Uganda. PHOTO | SYLIVIA KATUSHABE | NGMU


Uganda’s planned overhaul of the metre gauge railway to cut transport costs on the Northern Corridor and improve trade competitiveness has entered its final stages, even as the country faces a shortage of equipment, wagons, and trains.

The EastAfrican has learnt Spanish firm Imathia Construction has completed replacing steel sleepers with concrete beams on the Namanve-Kampala section of the line, which is expected to be handed over this month, Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) publicist John Lenon Sengendo said, adding that the contractor will then embark on the final section, Namanve-Mukono.

This will be the second section of the track to be completed after rehabilitation of the Tororo-Namanve line, including the line to Jinja Pier, which was completed a year ago.

While the Malaba-Namanve metre gauge track is now in fair condition, importers, exporters, and shippers remain sceptical about switching to rail, citing a shortage of rolling stock and inefficiency, which has resulted in 90 percent of traffic on the Northern Corridor being carried by road and only about seven percent is carried by rail because of the poor state of rail infrastructure.

Read: Grand $15bn plan to expand Kenya SGR to Kisumu, Malaba

As a result, transport costs are comparatively high on the Northern Corridor, ranging from 20 cents to 25 cents per tonne per kilometre for road transport, while the cost for rail transport ranges from US cents 6 to US cent 12 per tonne per kilometre, depending on the type of cargo.


The shortage of rolling stock is partly blamed on URC. A June 2022 Uganda’s Auditor General after reviewing URC’s asset register, had 521 wagons located in different parts of Kenya.

But only 128 wagons exit, leaving a balance of 393 wagons unaccounted for, raising fears of a possibility of URC overstating its asset values in the financial statements.

“URC accounting officer explained that there were many wagons left in Kenya by RVR (U) Ltd upon concession termination. A repatriation exercise to return these assets to Uganda commenced in July 2021 and by December 2021, a total of 243 wagons had been brought back.”

Under this project, Uganda is to buy 3,000 horsepower locomotives by 2026.

The number of Uganda government-owned wagon ferries is also expected to increase from the current two to four, a development set to help URC meet the growing traffic demand on Lake Victoria.

Read: Uganda plans to go it alone, build 2,700km-long SGR

The other financiers are the African Development Bank, which will provide $233.2 million, and the African Development Fund to provide $100.7 million – both concessional loans to finance the construction and purchase of rolling stock, which includes locomotives, wagons and coaches.

URC’s target is to move cargo from road to rail, and we expect to be moving six million tonnes a year.

In its efforts to revamp the metre gauge railway, Uganda is also reviving the route from Tororo in Eastern Uganda to Gulu City in the north. The line is currently under construction. Significantly, the city also hosts the Gulu Logistics Hub, whose phase one is also under construction, and projected to be complete in March 2022. The hub – which will be rail-linked – was planned as a strategic location connecting to the growing markets of Congo and South Sudan.