Kampala residents are shunning the commuter train service which has been restored after three decades.
The train goes through Kampala’s busiest route on Jinja road, but the coaches are not so busy. The 5 coaches have a maximum capacity of 1,000 passengers but only one was occupied during our ride.
The last passenger train service in Uganda, Kayoola was in the 1980s. This new service unlike the previous one comes with a bit of comfort.
What people don’t find comfortable though is the commute to the station.
“I stay in Kisaasi and I don’t use the train reason being that I have no access. It does not park near my place and even the stage where it parks in town is far from where I work. So to get it you must move to the train station and I don’t stay there,” Wycliffe Turyahebwa, Kampala resident said.
The taxis however still present a big challenge to the train service.
But those who use the train say it saves them from traffic as it takes just about 40 minutes to travel either way.
Kaliisa Isa, is not only a train user, but works here as well.
He says his job is to call on people to board the train so they can escape dust and traffic on the road.
The train is not limited in the number of passengers it carries.
The Uganda Railways Corporation (URC), Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and Rift Valley Railways (RVR) are running the service on a pilot basis between the city center and Namanve – a suburb of Kampala.
Passengers just have to pay 1,000 Uganda Shillings when heading to town, and 1,500 shillings when heading back.
It is not yet clear who has oversight responsibility for the service even though government supported the project with a billion shillings.
According to Sentongo Charles, Concession officer at Rift Valley Railways: “They are working out the numbers to see if the cost can be brought down to around 500 (Uganda Shillings), 500 per ticket wherever you embark or disembark from. We assume that 500 is affordable to everyone.”
It may be too early to judge, but if the current number of passengers using the train service is anything to go by, this pilot is proof that Kampala’s residents need more than a commuter train.
There are however plans to expand the country’s rail network which will be linked to other East African countries.