15 March 2018

Uganda: Train Passengers Revel in Reduced Travel Time, Cut Costs

Photo: The Observer
Passengers boarding the train

Weeks after Uganda Railway Corporation reintroduced passenger train services, many Kampalans are overly excited that they no longer have to endure the burden of traffic jam or the hustle for taxis and buses.

On Wednesday evening, this writer took a train ride from Kampala to Namanve and the atmosphere therein is ecstatic. At about 5:10pm, passengers from all walks of life - including men and women dressed formally and casually, probably belonging to the white-collar job segment - start arriving from all directions.

Some clearly show a facial expression of tire and stress from a long day, while others start conversing in excited tones. As more board the train, I can't help but notice two women sitting in the opposite direction inside one of the wagons.

One tells the other about how she used to hustle with taxis and arrive home late. She is now happy that she can reach home as early as 6pm, and spare some time to cook food and get to bed earlier.

"Using the train is a lot cheaper and affordable for me. I no longer have to struggle with issues of [traffic] jam or standing at City Square till 9pm in the night waiting for a taxi to appear that will charge you Shs 3000 to Bweyogerere," says Peace Anene, as she readies herself to board the train.

"Ever since I started using the train, I arrive home early from work and spend some quality time with my toddlers," she adds.

Similar stories continue as people come, pay at the counter and enter either of the five wagons. By 5:20pm, the train is almost full and the captain sounds a long hoot, warning those still outside to get on board.

At exactly 5:30pm, the train sets off with some security officers patrolling every wagon to ensure that everything is okay. I get curious and I ask why?

"Cases of crime in trains are common and, therefore, it shouldn't be underestimated. It is relevant for security to be strict; for instance, in Pakistan, women were raped by thugs on a train and if that can happen, there it can happen here too; so, that's why we strictly have to patrol every journey the train takes," one of the security officers identified as Okello tells me.

The train swiftly moves through Industrial Area and Kinawattaka and makes the first stop near Makerere University Business School (MUBS) where some people disembark and others board.

The next stop is around Spear Motors before proceeding to Kireka and Bweyogerere, from where majority of the passenger's disembark. The train completes the journey at Namanve by 6:15pm, and turns to take those headed for the city.

Ordinarily, a journey from Kampala to Namanve takes a minimum of two hours during peak hours. On a train, you just need less than 45 minutes to reach the township.

"I do not understand why people from this end of Bweyogerere come to town with cars and struggle with traffic jam and fuel, yet they can use the train and get to their destinations in a short while, spending just Shs 2,000 for a return [ticket]," notes Don Ssali, one of the passengers.

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