Railroad improvements by RVR give hope for faster speeds

RIFT VALLEY RAILWAYS PUTS NEW ASSETS TO WORK

(Posted 17th July 2014)

Rift Valley Railways, the concessionaire for the narrow gauge railway systems of Kenya and Uganda, yesterday commissioned some of the new equipment imported to speed up track maintenance and repairs. Two fully automated units will commence maintenance work, replacing manual labour along the extensive tracks between the port of Mombasa, the Kenyan capital of Nairobi and on to the Ugandan border.

The so called ballast tamper and ballast profiler equipment is capable of re-arranging ballast on the track with a high degree of precision, ensuring greater track stability, reducing accidents and improving delivery speeds.

While manual labour at best conditions can accomplish some 40 metres per hour will the new machines cover up to one kilometre per hour with the added benefit of improved reliability.

Measures already taken last year, like the rehabilitation of the most critical 75 kilometres of track where most of the line disruptions occurred, have already shaved off 6 hours of journey time between Mombasa and Nairobi and further such time savings are expected when added mileage of the track in need of swift refurbishments have been dealt with.

While at present only three passenger trains operate per week between Mombasa and Nairobi, this is largely attributed to the much slower pace of travel, which has prompted a move to both busses and low cost airlines, the latter charging as little as 2.850 Kenya Shillings for a one way trip. Once the entire track is refurbished is an increase in passenger train frequencies possible again. However, when the new high speed standard gauge railway, which is due for completion by around mid 2018, comes on line it will very likely launch a passenger service, leaving RVR at that stage to full concentrate on cargo traffic.

Passenger trains, at least in the early days of colonization, when the then Uganda Railways was in its heydays, and then after independence were the safest means of long distance travel in both Kenya and Uganda and books and film immortalized the ‘Iron Snake’ aka ‘Lunatic Express’ especially some of the opening scenes of multi Oscar winning film ‘Out of Africa’.

Service in the early days of rail travel in the First Class sleepers and the dining cars was impeccable, or so old records show as well as memory goes, and it was only in the 1980’s that service levels, after the mzee’s (experienced but ageing service staff) retired, started to slide and deteriorate. Periodically are special train charters still arranged though as railway buffs from all over the world are seeking out those classic rail journeys but unlike the ‘Blue Train’ in South Africa or the ‘Maharaja Express’ in India has the East African railways never been able to duplicate the quality and consistency of such services, leaving the ‘Lunatic Express’ journey a one off instead of a regular tourist attraction. Fodder for thought no doubt.

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