More than 20 per cent of the cargo transported along the Northern Corridor relies on rail transport.
The rail network essentially comprises a single line, overland rail track from Mombasa through Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu/Eldoret, Jinja, Kampala to Kasese in western Uganda (1650 km).
The rail track from Mombasa to Kampala via Malaba (1330 km) is currently the principal route for rail transit. The rail route is served by express block trains operated by Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) and Uganda Railways Corporation (URC). Shuttle trains from the Port of Mombasa to Nairobi ICD run twice a day depending on availability of cargo.
View NTCA designated routes for rail traffic
Block train operations
Block train operations, aimed at facilitating faster movement of cargo from Mombasa to Kampala and back, have reduced transit times from 14 days to only 4 to 5 days. However, average transit times on this route are between 7-9 days from the Port of Mombasa to Kampala.
Nonetheless, lack of locomotive power and wagon fleets as well as deteriorating conditions of the permanent way – especially on the Uganda section of the network - have hampered the block train operations.
Condition of rail network
Investment in rail infrastructure and equipment has been inadequate for more than a decade. As a result, the general condition of the railway network from Kenya to Uganda is old and in need of rehabilitation. Worse sections, such as the Kampala-Kasese line, have been closed. Inadequate investments have also diminished the efficiency and capacity of railway authorities to handle increased traffic volumes.
However, even though railway transport faces stiff competition from road transport for passenger and freight, it still retains a share of bulk freight.
View condition of the rail network
View condition of the rail network
Kenya Railways Corporation
The Kenya Railways Corporation, which has potential capacity to handle cargo of up to 7 million tonnes per annum, but currently handling only one third of this, is undergoing a restructuring programme to improve efficiency.
KRC is also improving its services by rehabilitating railway lines and repairing sick wagons to increase availability of its rolling stock from 2,100 to 3,500 wagons. KRC aims to increase to its traffic volumes from 2.4 to 3.6 million tonnes per annum, with increased number of wagons.
To avoid heavy containers destroying the rail network, the KRC is also ensuring that wagons are not loaded beyond the maximum carrying capacity. However, there is need to find a lasting solution to deal with the maximum weight of containers.
Uganda Railways Corporation
Uganda's railway system consists of 640 km of main line from Kasese to Malaba and another 600km of branch lines. The rail network handles a substantial portion of Uganda's imports and exports, and rail freight traffic has increased steadily over the past decade. Much of this freight traffic is external, with exports accounting for more than 80 per cent of URC's freight tonnage.
The Malaba–Jinja–Kampala line (251 kms) is generally in fair condition, except for some sections where the sleepers are worn out and require replacement. The entire line, however, requires re-ballasting. Rehabilitation of the Kampala–Jinja–Malaba section is an urgent priority as Uganda's imports and exports are being routed via Malaba by block train services.
A recent study by URC noted that shunting delays at Malaba had reduced from 4 hours to 1½ hours and was expected to improve further.
The report called for joint customs operations at Malaba, which would reduce wagon turn around between Kampala and Mombasa from the current 43 days to 14 days. It also suggested that KRC establish in-house capacity at Malaba to clear block trains. Kenya Revenue Authority and Uganda Revenue Authority are taking measures to introduce joint clearing of rail traffic at Malaba.
To improve on turnaround of wagons, URC has expanded facilities at its Kampala Goodshed, which has also been designated as a customs area, therefore allowing the release of wagons while offloaded cargo awaits customs clearance. An area has also been identified for offloading of steel coils before customs formalities are finalized.
The need for private sector investment in the railway network has become more apparent in order to improve services and to cope with increasing traffic volumes.
Both the Kenya and Uganda governments have appointed transaction advisors to facilitate privatisation of the KRC and URC, by July 2004.
Expansion of the railway network is required to connect missing links within the Northern Corridor. A rail link from Kasese (Uganda) to Rwanda and the DR Congo to the Northern rail network requires the participation of the private sector.
The missing links are from:
- Kasese to D R Congo
- Bihanga – Mbarara (Uganda) to Kigali (Rwanda)
- Kigali to Bujumbura
Future of rail network
It is expected that after privatisation, the existing railway systems will be better managed. In the meantime, support is required to improve some sections of the existing network, such as Nakuru-Kisumu, Malaba-Kampala and Kampala-Kasese.
Initiatives such as the proposed Kagera Basin Organisation (KBO) rail network and the COMESA Great Railways Lake Project, if realised, could result in a greater role played by the railways.