Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Railway transport is crucial to EA integration

RAILWAY transport is of strategic importance to Uganda and the region’s economic growth. The Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) was formed after the break-up of the East African Railways Corporation (EARC) in 1977 when it took over the Ugandan part of the East African railways.

Out of the total Uganda rail network of 1,266 km, only 330km is operational, such as the main line from Malaba to Kampala (250km), Tororo-Mbale (55km), Kampala-Port Bell (9km), Kampala-Nalukolongo (6km) and Jinja-Kakira (12km).

Other lines were closed either due to their technical deficiencies or due to inadequate traffic volumes. From the mid-1970s, traffic declined, finances came under stress and the condition of railway infrastructure deteriorated.

The East African railways masterplan was a directive of the East African Community (EAC) April 2004 heads of state summit to link the region and neighbouring countries for efficient trade.

Only the current Kenya-Uganda railway line was laid by the colonial governments decades ago and it no longer serves the purpose.

We need to note that a lot of cargo exchange takes place between the five EA countries, that is Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi and by this, a cheaper and efficient means of transport should be put in place. The high cost of maintaining the highways carrying heavy truck and bus traffic is leading the Government to invest a lot in the operation and maintenance of roads, hence the need for railway investment.

Transporters also spend a fortune to repair trucks, which often breakdown because of bad roads. As we plan to expand and increase on the usage of our hydropower in the country, one of the good uses would be to invest in good high-speed electric trains. These can reduce an eight-hour journey by half the time. Steam and fuel trains are no longer in vogue. We can only acquire a modern railway system if we utilise our newly discovered oil well.

Our economy will boom if the railway network is improved because it is largely viewed as the cheapest means of transport for business.

Changes in trade regulation are also resulting in new domestic and global markets and supply chains. These demands will place additional burdens on the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

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