SPECIAL REPORT: Standard Gauge Railway to Save Uganda USD 2bn Annually

Uganda and Kenya this week signed a bilateral agreement for the seamless operation of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) between the two states.

The agreement signed in Nairobi Kenya is seen as a major milestone in the project’s schedule because it stipulates how the two countries will develop, side effects operate and harmonize operations to ensure that the infrastructure seamlessly interconnect.

The SGR Project seeks to develop a modern and efficient railway transport system to address both the freight and passenger transportation needs of the country.

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Currently, link road trucks carry at least 97 percent of Uganda’s International freight, purchase resulting in high costs of doing business and making Uganda an economically uncompetitive country.

By introducing reliable, safe, affordable and efficient railway transport systems, SGR officials say this will occasion a drastic freight transportation model shift from road to rail.

It is understood this modal shift will reduce the economy’s cost of freight transportation from the seaport of Mombasa by 69 percent from the current average of US16 cents per tonne-KM to an average of US5 cents per tonne-KM.

This will save the economy over USD 2 billion annually in transport costs, according to government officials.

Importantly, it will reduce the freight transportation time over land from Mombasa to Kampala from the current average of 10-14 days to just one day.

Development of the railway is in line with the Regional Standard Gauge Railway Protocol that obliges the four countries party to Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIP) to develop a seamless railway transport system.

The Project is developing two types of railway systems, the first being the main SGR line – for both freight and passengers

The main SGR routes comprise; the Eastern route from Malaba to Kampala, The Northern route from Tororo via Gulu to Packwach -Vurra (at the DR Congo border) and a line going northwards from Gulu to Nimule (at the South Sudan border) as well as the Western and South Western Route from Kampala via Kasese to Mpondwe at the DR Congo border and from Kampala via Mbarara and Bihanga to Mirama Hills (at the Rwanda border).

The second is the SGR-LRT (Light Rail Mass Transit). This will be a town service rail system for only passengers to cater for commuters within the city and the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area (GKMA) – especially in high traffic areas.

The first phase of LRT routes cover 40KM route length, radiating from the current Kampala Railway Station and cover Kampala to Namanve, Kampala to Kajjansi, Kampala to Kawempe (Ttula), and Kampala to Kyengera.

Officials say this will reduce the current travel time lost in travel in these high traffic areas.

Specifically, the bilateral agreement between Kenya and Uganda spells out how the two states will exchange locomotives at the Malaba border.

It also provides for seamless transition by the diesel traction system operated by Kenya to the Ugandan electric system. Kenya has however made provisions to later upgrade to electric traction.

The bilateral agreement is on the tariffs to be charged between the two states and the establishment of a one-stop-border post at Malaba station in Kenya.

Officials speak out

James Macharia, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for transport infrastructure and housing acknowledged that the railway project is not complete until all the four countries that have signed the Northern Corridor Integration Project (NCIP) protocol have completed their sections of the railway.

The four states under the NCIP are Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan.

“The economic viability of the railway project was assessed at a regional level,” noted Macharia adding that the fact that Kenya is commencing works on the most difficult section of the project with 5km in a tunnel indicates his country’s commitment.

On October 19, Kenya launched phase 2A of the Nairobi- Naivasha leg which will take the line through the rift valley.

Macharia urged Uganda to remain firm because projects of this scope will always have challenges.

The civil works of Mombasa- Nairobi SGR section is substantially completed and this segment of the railway is due for commissioning in June 2017.

Earlier in the week, Uganda’s transport minister Monica Azuba and the SGR Uganda team toured sections of the completed Mombasa- Nairobi railway line. Azuba noted that the enormous progress made by Kenya spurs Uganda to move on firmly.

“The SGR is a priority for Uganda, the signing of this agreement will demonstrate to financers that we are serious,” noted Azuba.

Azuba reiterated that the land acquisition process in Uganda is moving steadily and nearing completion.

The agreement also states that Kenya will construct and maintain the section of the bridge across River Malaba within the territory of Uganda.

The two states have also agreed to engage the same operator for the Mombasa- Kampala SGR for the joint and seamless operations of the SGR.

Locomotives and rolling stock belonging to Kenya will also be permitted access to the Ugandan railway track when Kenya switches over to electric traction.

The SGR Uganda project coordinator Kasingye Kyamugambi said Uganda’s land acquisition is nearing completion with sections of the compensated railway corridor already demarcated.

Uganda’s ambassador to Kenya Angelina Wapakhabulo thanked Kenya for allowing the Ugandan team to continuously benchmark from the Kenyan experience.

Currently close to 80 percent of Uganda’s goods pass through Mombasa with the majority of cargo going through road.

It is expected that with a functional and efficient railway line, most of the cargo will shift to the railway network thus increasing the size of cargo and speed of delivery which will ultimately impact on the speed and efficiency of doing business.

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