UGANDA’s Ministry of Works & Transport has initiated the process of acquiring the right of way for the 35km first phase of the Kampala Light Rail Mass Transit (LRT) system, which is one of the five standard-gauge railway projects the country wants to implement in its drive to become a middle income economy by 2040.

Works and transport minister, Ms Monica Azuba Ntege, says acquiring the right of way for the project will be completed during the current 2017-18 fiscal year before the government embarks on trying to secure funding. The government has also approved a Resettlement Action Plan for the LRT project.

Uganda Railway 02The light rail network will serve the approximately 1000km2 Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area, which is home to an estimated 3.5 million people. The population is growing at around 5% per annum and is expected to reach 15 million by 2040. Kampala accounts for more than 70% of Uganda’s industrial production and more than 65% of gross domestic product, but suffers from severe road traffic congestion.

A recent study found that commuters lose about 24,000 man-hours each day due to congestion. In addition, public transport in Kampala is provided by 14-seat minibuses which are unregulated and do not operate to fixed routes. The Ministry of Works & Transport estimates that 48% of people in Kampala walk, 33% rely on taxis, 10% use minibuses, and just 9% have access to private cars.

A pilot commuter rail service was launched in December 2015 between Kampala and Namanve, by Kampala Capital City Authority in partnership with the troubled Kenya Uganda Railway concessionaire Rift Valley Railways (RVR) as part of initiatives to decongest Kampala.

However, in October 2017 the government terminated the 25-year concession with RVR, which had begun in 2006. “In view of the poor performance of RVR concession, both Kenya and Uganda are terminating the agreement and the management of the railway will revert to the Uganda Railways Corporation,” said Mr Matia Kassaija, Uganda’s minister for finance, planning and economic development when he announced the termination of the concession last year. However, the handover to Uganda Railways was delayed until February while RVR tried to get the decision rescinded.

Uganda Railways re-launched the daily round trip for commuters on February 27 and the government says it will provide an annual subsidy of Shillings 3.4bn ($US 33.5m) to sustain it. There are also plans to introduce commuter services from Kampala to Port Bell and Kyengera. Certainly, demand for the service gives the government reason for optimism over its future. In the year before its withdrawal, 40,000 commuters used the service every day between December 2015 and December 2016, an increase of 18% compared with the previous year.

Significant patronage is also expected on the proposed Kampala light rail project. Standard Gauge Railway Uganda (SGR), a government agency which is coordinating the construction of new lines, is responsible for implementing the project. However, the scheme is behind schedule after the completion deadlines for the detailed engineering designs and signing of the EPC/turnkey project were pushed forward from the initial deadline of the 2016-17 fiscal year. No new dates have been confirmed although the Ministry of Works & Transport still hopes to complete the first phase by June 2020.

In December 2015, the Ugandan government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) for the construction of phase one at an estimated cost of $US 440m although the cost has since risen to $US 700m according to new government estimates. Financing is expected to come from the China’s Export-Import Bank, although there is no official confirmation yet on how the Kampala LRT will be structured.

Four lines

The first phase of the Kampala light rail project, which will be the second LRT scheme in sub-Saharan Africa following the opening of a 17km light rail line in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in 2015, will consist of four lines radiating from Kamala station:

  • a 12km line running east via Nakawa, Banda, Kireka and Bweyogerere to Namanve
  • a 9km line running north via City Square, Buganda Road, Wandegeya, Mulago, Kubbiri and Bwaise to Kawempe, and
  • two 7km lines which will share a common section as far as Kibuye, with one branch heading west to Kyengera, and the other running south via Zana to Lubowa.

The network will be elevated to avoid any interference with traffic on Kampala’s highly congested road network, and the east and west lines will largely follow existing railways. Mr Kasingye Kyamugambi, the coordinator of SGR, says the objective is to achieve very high safety standards for the light rail network with a very low accident rate.

The Kampala LRT network will comprise 1435mm-gauge double-track lines with a minimum curve radius of 30m and a maximum gradient of 5%. It will be electrified at 750V dc overhead. Stations will be located at intervals ranging from 500m to 2km apart.

A fleet of 40 30m-long LRVs will be needed to operate phase one. Each vehicle will have a capacity of 350 passengers, 65 of them seated and 285 standing. It is envisaged that LRVs will operate at five-10-minute intervals during peak periods, and the service will operate from 05.00 to 23.30.

Traffic is estimated at 14,000-15,000 passengers/hour/direction with SGR expecting to carry a total of 720,000 people on the network daily.

SGR estimates that fares will not exceed Shillings 500 for short rides, which is half the current rate charged by minibus operators. Tickets would be either prepaid and or sold on-board the LRVs. Unusually for an urban light rail network, SGR Uganda intends to provide three classes of travel - first, upper and economy - to attract middle and higher-income riders, as well as low-income passengers.

A decision has yet to be made on the role Uganda Railways Corporation could play in the operation or maintenance of the Kampala LRT network which is expected to create 2000 direct and 6000 indirect jobs during the three-year construction phase. SGR says another 800 skilled and semi-skilled jobs will be available during the operational phase of the new line.

SGR estimates that the light rail network will cut journey times by up to 75% and boost economic activity along the corridors it will serve. Substantial reductions in fuel consumption, pollution, and road maintenance costs are envisaged when people switch from road to rail transport.

In the long term, the network will be extended to a total of 240km including a 37km line south to Entebbe and two 20km lines running to Nisangi and Wakiso.


Ugandan standard-gauge project makes slow progress

DELAYS in constructing the final section of Kenya’s standard-gauge railway to the Ugandan border are having a knock-on effect on Uganda’s plan to build its own 1724km standard-gauge network.

The 472km first phase of the Kenyan project from Mombasa to Nairobi was completed on May 31 2017. The 490km second phase from Nairobi via Kisumu to Malaba on the Ugandan border is divided into three sub-phases:

  • Phase 2A Nairobi - Naivasha (120km), which is under construction at an estimated cost of $US 1.5bn
  • Phase 2B Naivasha - Kisumu (262km) for which funding is being sought, and
  • Phase 2C Kisumu - Malaba (107km).

According to Ugandan press reports, the completion of feasibility studies and funding approval for Phase 2C could be two to three years away while Kenya focuses on Phases 2A and 2B. And despite Uganda’s Ministry of Works & Transport signing an EPC/turnkey contract with China Harbour Engineering (CHEC) in February 2017 for the $US 2.3bn 273km Malaba - Tororo - Kampala project, progress has been slow.

In particular, the project has been affected by delays in releasing funds to compensate people occupying land on the new railway alignment. So far land around 100km has been acquired.

In the meantime, the Ugandan government is planning to upgrade part of the national metre-gauge network now that the concession with Rift Valley Railways has finally been terminated. Indeed, on March 8, Uganda’s president, Mr Yoweri Museveni, pledged to revive the Kampala - Kasese line.