Members of Parliament are calling for the country to shift from meter gauge railway to standard gauge.
This, they said will help cut costs and avoid wastage of resources associated with implementing both gauges.
The MPs from the Parliament Committee on National Economy visited the works on the Kampala – Mukono railway line and inspected the Kawolo Concrete sleeper factory, Namanve work site and other areas.
While appearing before the Committee on Government Assurance on August 31, 2022, the minister of Transport, Gen Edward Katumba Wamala, revealed that Uganda Railway Corporation(URC) had resorted to using concrete railway sleepers to replace the metallic ones due to vandalism.
Currently, 70% of the required sleepers have been manufactured for Kampala – Namanve. The process is very important.
The Committee also asked officials from the URC why the corporation is handling the implementation of the meter gauge railway and standard gauge railway separately. The government has decided to rehabilitate the two projects separately; a move many MPs say will be very costly for the country.
But the officials from URC explained that both gauges are needed, clearing worries from the MPs.
The Chairperson of the Committee on National Economy, John Bosco Ikojo, said that there was poor planning before the implementation of the project and added that it would have been cheaper to implement both gauges simultaneously, instead of separately.
“We believe it would have been cheaper if we had gone for the duo such that we handle these costs at once other than having two lines separately. It is costly to put down the infrastructure. When we plan badly we spend a lot,” he said.
The main reason for their inspection, Ikojo said, was to see the level of performance.
“Our country has suffered a lot in terms of transportation because we are a landlocked country and we have a lot of erosion in our roads because the actual load on our tarmac roads is high. The road, which was supposed to last for 10 to 15 years, lasted for less than its lifetime,” he said.
He added “We believe that once the meter gauge railway is put in place as we wait for the standard gauge railway in future, this will be in position to offload the challenge that we have in our load system”
Allan Atugona, MP Bullisa explained the reason as to why the URC is still implementing meter gauge is because in some European countries they are still using the same and the country needs it.
“They (officials from URC) said the volume of goods we expect coming from Mombasa will be high and the country can still use both meter gauge. I think this is good because I was eager to know why we can’t implement standard gauge, “he said.
He, however, noted that as a country there is a need to move away from meter gauge railway to standard gauge.
Rail is viewed as a safer and more affordable mode of transport than road, but currently, more than 90% of the traffic along the northern corridor is carried by road, with a mere 7% moving by rail due to poor infrastructure.
While the government in 2016 signed an agreement with Chinese firm, China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC) for the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway, almost seven years later, there is nothing to show of the project.
This has been blamed on failure by the government to get funds from the China Exim Bank which was hoped to bankroll the project.
Neighboring countries including Kenya and Tanzania have on the other side made good progress on the project.
For example, Kenya’s first phase between Mombasa and Nairobi is up and running after opening passenger rail service in June 2017, and freight rail service in January 2018.
On the other side, Tanzania has also made good progress on the construction of the SGR.
Recently, the Ministry of Finance Permanent Secretary, Ramathan Ggoobi h said the government was ready to hit the ground running with the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway.
“We are beginning the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway(SGR). The talk (about SGR) has been on for a long time. We have studied and over-studied and now we want to hit the ground running in the next financial year ,” Ggoobi said.