Time check is 5:30pm and on a Friday evening, with the final whistle , the passenger train takes off from the Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) head office to Namamve in Mukono District. Launched in February 2018, the passenger train service has continued to attract huge numbers of passengers because of the horrible traffic jams on Kampala roads, particularly on Kampala-Jinja Highway. The train offers daily passenger service from Namamve, east of Kampala City to the railway headquarters. Passengers plying the route say it has saved them from the traffic gridlock that often hit Kampala-Jinja Highway. As it clocks 4pm in the afternoon, the traffic towards the Uganda railway head office begins to increase as passengers swarm to catch the train back home.
Passenger experience Mr James Nkalubo had never thought of using the train until the closing of of June last year when he realized he had no money to meet his fares to Mukono. Mr Nkalubo, a phone App developer plying his trade at Mutasa-Kafero plaza in Kampala, who had been an ardent user of the boda boda transport, said she was spending at least Shs15,000 every day. “Mind you I had for long known boda bodas as my quickest solution each time traffic hit, however, it was becoming so costly for me,” Mr Nkalubo said.
Since his first experience over a year ago, he has resorted to the train service. This has since seen him persuade others to join her. Mr Nkalubo is among hundreds of passengers who have taken to the train services for their daily transport to the eastern part of Kampala. For Ms Scovia Atyang, a first time passenger, it is a new experience. She walked all the way from St Balikuddembe market to board the train out of a friend’s influence.
“I had to walk from Owino just to catch this train. My friend had praised it for being fair, fast and punctual, and I was also told I could reach in just minutes, which is why I won’t worry standing for the entire journey even when I am tired,” she said. Moses Kawule, a graphics designer working at Mutasa-Kafero plaza, said it is the punctuality that has driven him to use the passenger train service. “It never disappoints. I am always assured of being there on time because it sets off and arrives either 10 minutes before or after. I have never gone for any other means since I shifted to Kireka, a Kampala suburb,” he said.
Cost, Reliance At the ticketing office is a calm and composed lady who later introduced herself as Christine. She has perfected her art so well that every passenger who stands at the window waiting for the ticket has something nice to say about her. On approaching her, about conditions to fulfil before accessing the train, she said: “It is okay sir, that’s all you need to pay for the trip regardless of your destination. Please, have yourself a safe trip sir.”
The trip from the railway corporation headquarters to Namamve costs a paltry Shs1000, compared to Shs3000 on taxis and about Shs10,000 on average for a boda boda ride from the city centre. From the ticketing area, the walk-ways lead you through the corridors, down the stair case before reaching the boarding area. The place is manned by several police officers and staff of URC clad in green and grey outfits. On the rails are five coaches, ready to transit passengers to their final destinations. Inside the coaches are relatively clean with spongy seats for an old train that has seen the rails for decades.
As the train gains acceleration, dust along the rail take toll on the passengers as the train cruises to its final destination. The situation worsens Kinawataka, Kireka and Bweyogerere, Kampala’s suburbs. At these stretches, the dust becomes unbearable, but passengers who have used the service since its inception say they have go accustomed to it. Mr Mustafa Ntuyo, a regular user said: “My friend, every part of Uganda has dust. So this is very normal in our setting and we are used it and that is why these ladies cover their heads with scarfs.”