Government plans ambitious $700m light rail network for greater Kampala

The government is nursing ambitions of a light rail rapid transport system for the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area to alleviate the city’s chronic traffic congestion.

Discussions on the project are still in early stages, but the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project coordinator, Engineer Kasingye Kyamubambi, says it is being pursued alongside ongoing discussions for the standard gauge railway connecting Uganda to the Kenyan coast.

The standard gauge railway, SGR, built and funded by the Chinese, adheres to a worldwide standard for high-speed trains. It has a standardized width of 1,435 millimetres (4 feet/8 inches), while the old railway, constructed by the British colonialists, is a narrow gauge line of 1,000 millimetres (about 3 feet/5 inches).

A railway’s gauge determines how fast trains run and the weights they can carry, with all high-speed railway lines utilising the standard gauge unit.

Mr Kyamugambi said the light rail project is so far tagged to a cost of $700m, or Shs2,400bn. He was speaking to journalists last Wednesday in Kampala.

“We have already started to conduct studies for the light rail, and we must look at a lot of things involved,” he added.

The greater Kampala Metropolitan covers an area of 1,000 Km2 and is the major business and industrial hub of Uganda.

In December 2015, the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a Chinese company, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) to undertake construction of the initial 35km phase of the light rail.

The routes mulled under the project, and supposed to be complete by 2020 according to earlier plans, include Kampala-Kawempe via Nakivubo, Kisekka, Wandegeya, Mulago, Kubbiri and Kalerwe (9 Km); Kampala-Kajjansi via Kibuye, Najjanankumbi and Zana, Lubowa, Seguku and Lweza (12 Km); Kampala-Namanve via Nakawa, Spear Motors, Kyambogo, Banda, Kireka and Bweyogerere (12 km); and Kampala-Kyengera via Katwe, Kibuye, Ndeeba, Nalukolongo and Natete (7 km)

The Chinese company, CCECC, is also linked to the construction of the Western SGR route running from Kampala to Mirama Hills en route to Kigali. Feasibility studies for this project are said to be in works.

The SGR project was agreed to in 2011 by Uganda’s President Museveni, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, South Sudan’s Salva Kiir and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta; the aim was a high-speed train that runs from Mombasa port to Kampala to Kigali and with a link to Juba.

In 2014, the SGR protocol was adopted by the regional heads of states, which saw Kenya embark on construction of the $3.8bn railway line from Mombasa to the capital Nairobi, which was commissioned in June.

Kenya has already secured funding to start work on the 120km line from Nairobi to Naivasha pegged to a cost of a $1.7bn. It will later scout for funding for the 107km line connecting to Malaba, which will cost $1.7bn.

Uganda is currently engaged in shuttle-diplomacy to convince China’s Exim Bank to release the first instalment of the $2.3bn required for the construction of the 273km line running from Malaba, on the border with Kenya, to Kampala. The tender for construction was awarded to China Harbour Engineering Corporation (CHEC) in 2014.