COMMUTER TRAINS – ALTRUISTIC SERVICE OR EVICTION TOOL
When news broke about the Ugandan arm of Rift Valley Railways intending to bring back commuter rail services into the capital city, the initial joy was soon joined by skepticism over the true motives of the proposed move.
Last week purported landowners commenced the clearing and fencing of land at the railways main engineering plant and workshop in Nalukolongo / Kampala, literally ambushing the corporation, claiming to have had land titles to the plots for over 30 years and finally intending to develop the plots. Along railway lines, especially in the city suburbs but also elsewhere along the functioning sections between the border with Kenya and the capital city Kampala, many literally defunct stations have been taken over by entrepreneurs conducting their business from these premises, and while called squatters by RVR, little if anything has been done to evict them.
The grand new strategy of offering ‘affordable commuter services into the city’, but reportedly also into Jinja, went along with immediate demands that the respective stretches of the rail network and the stations along the route be cleared of squatters and encroachers, so that passenger commuter services can be introduced. This measure however is probably the clearest indication that the promise of affordable mass transport only serves the ulterior motive of ‘clearing’ the railroad lines and stations well in advance of the now more likely upgrade from narrow gauge to standard gauge, for which RVR – following a protracted ownership struggle last year which eventually resulted in the Egyptian shareholders displacing the erstwhile company founders from South Africa – has finally secured funding to commence the modernization of the rolling stock, line repairs and thereafter line upgrades.
The announcement must therefore be taken with a grain of salt and the question be asked: altruism or a clever tactic to prompt evictions – time will tell, so watch this space.