Just days after reclaiming management of railway business from Rift Valley Railways (RVR), Uganda Railway Cooperation (URC) last evening re-launched passenger services in and around Kampala city.
This was met with a nod of approval from many Kampalans especially those who have previously had to scramble for taxis during peak hours. According to Abubakari Ochaki, the chief operations officer at URC, a number of things had been wasted during the 12-year management of railway business by RVR. He said assets such as rolling stock had become obsolete and new management is trying to put everything to order.
“We are charged with the entire railway operations and other operations within the cooperation as per the directives by the government through…a meeting held on January 25, where the government [took over railway management from RVR],” Ochaki said.
Yesterday evening, people were filled with joy as URC re-launched passenger services. As early as 5pm, passengers had already started entering either of the five wagons scheduled to make the maiden trip from the city centre to Namanve.
By 5:30, all wagons had been filled and there was the customary hoot as the train set off. Inside the fairly-comfortable wagons, many passengers sat mute, with visibly tired faces.
The wagons were so full that journalists and a number of passengers traveled while standing. One passenger was, however, overheard complementing the move to reintroduce passenger train services, saying that if such a transport system was well-organised, people would not need to congest the city with private vehicles.
There were stops in the townships of Nakawa, Kireka, Bweyogerere and finally Namanve. Ochaki said there will be two daily trips, one in the morning (7am) and another in the evening (5:30pm).
For starters, passengers going between Kampala and Bweyogerere pay Shs 1,000 while those reaching Namanve pay Shs 1,500. Ochaki added that in the next few months, URC plans to introduce more routes such as one from Kampala to Port Bell and another to Kyengera. He said they want to modernize operations to meet world standards.
In the past five years, the defunct RVR launched passenger service trains twice but their operations did not last more than six months on both occasions. This was mainly due to faulty locomotives and other management shortfalls.
Ochaki, however, assured the public that this time round, the service is going to professional and sustainable. The government of Uganda has reportedly promised to fund the cooperation with Shs 3.4 billion every year purposely for passenger services.