Uganda has begun rebuilding a branch of a century-old, British-built railway line that is projected to reduce the cost of moving commodities to the country’s north, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to a railway spokeswoman.
The line, which has been out of service for around 40 years, is part of the East Africa rail network, which extends from Kenya’s Indian Ocean seaport of Mombasa to Tanzania. It was constructed around the turn of the twentieth century by Kenya’s and Uganda’s former colonial ruler, Britain.
“Our ambition is to move all long-distance bulk cargo transportation onto rail from roads in a few years because rail is cheaper in terms of cost and time,” John Linnon Sengendo, spokesman for state-run Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) told Reuters.
Uganda decided to revamp the old network after plans to build a separate modern standard gauge railway (SGR) failed to secure financing from China.
Early this year Uganda terminated a contract with China Harbour and Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) to build the $2.2 billion SGR and is seeking a new contractor.
Meanwhile, Sengendo said China Road and Bridge Corporation(CRBC) would restore the old line over the course of two years at a cost of 200 billion shillings ($55.48 million) provided by the Ugandan government.
The 382 km (237 mile) section of the line to be repaired connects Tororo town in Uganda’s east near the border with Kenya and terminates at a logistics hub in Gulu in Uganda’s north near the border with South Sudan.
The European Union funded construction of the Gulu hub, completed in late 2021, as part of the effort to revamp Uganda’s railway network, which fell into disrepair during the country’s economic collapse in 1970s and early 80s.
Ugandan officials hope once the link is restored, rail will replace trucks in shipping transit goods to South Sudan and northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Last week, Kenya’s and Uganda’s transport ministers said they would accelerate another project to build a standard gauge railway to link Naivasha in Kenya and Uganda’s capital Kampala.