The proposed Kampala flyover project may not solve the transport challenge of traffic jams and congestion in the city unless government urgently invests in alternative means of mass public transport.
Currently, the city’s main means of public transportation are 14-seater omnibuses and motorcycle taxis, popularly known as boda boda. They have enormous limitations in terms of passenger volume and come with a lot of safety risks and inconveniences. As a result, anyone who can afford an old used car, however crappy, is bringing it on the street and clogging the city’s roads further.
A survey done in Kampala early this year by Iganga Foundation titled Smart Moving Kampala, indicates that 24,000 hours are lost each day by commuters due to traffic jams. It pointed specifically at areas near the Old Taxi Park where many streets are blocked by taxis (matatus) waiting to enter the park. This happens daily and the flow of traffic is impossible in the nearby streets.
The situation is not any different at other major routes like Jinja Road – Wampewo intersection, Clock Tower, and KPC – Fidodido junction. Traffic jams have become a day-to-day, hour-to-hour menace here.
Experts have already warned that the current flyover project will offer a short term solution to a long-term challenge. They give an example of Kenya, Uganda’s immediate neighbour which has already undertaken comprehensive flyover projects like Thika Express Highway.
“Roads are becoming smaller and the situation is going to worsen. We need an alternative public transport system which will stop people from buying vehicles,” says Steven Kasiima, the acting head of Traffic Police.
The same view is shared by Dr Kiggundu Amin Tamale, an architecture lecturer at Makerere University and a physical planning expert. He told Sunday Monitor that creating road space will not necessarily solve the transport challenge in Kampala without investing in alternative means.
Thika Express highway, one of East Africa’s infrastructure masterpieces, has lived a lifeline of less than five years but is already experiencing heavy traffic jams at peak hours, a problem it was supposed to solve.
Kenya has now turned to rehabilitating the colonial passenger train system alongside the new standard gauge railway aimed at linking Mombasa to Nairobi. After which, it will connect to the Uganda border at Malaba-Tororo, then Kampala and, perhaps, finally to Kigali.
Currently, Nairobi operates several train stations: Nairobi Railway Station, Syokimau, Makadara, Imara Daima, Kahawa, Dandora, Embakasi and Kikuyu. On average, about 19,000 passengers are transported per day to and from the outskirts of Nairobi by train. This is still small compared to other cities in the world with well-established metro systems but it points to future of urban transportation in Africa.
Nairobi commuters interviewed by the Sunday Monitor said the train is the most cost-effective public transport system in Nairobi with fares as low as Kshs20 (Ushs600).
Uganda has about 1,600km of narrow or metric gauge (1,000mm) railway network, only 330km, less than a quarter is being used for freight services. The one under use is mainly the 190km between Kampala and Tororo-Malaba at the Kenya border. It has other existent but non-functional train routes, Tororo-Mbale-Gulu-Packwach, Kampala-Kasese, Kampala-Port Bell, Kampala-Nalukolongo and Jinja-Mbulamuti-Busembatia (also referred to as the Busoga loop).
A section of the public opines that the huge funding earmarked for the flyover project would rather be injected building a light railway system which will in return reduce congestion on the Kampala road network. Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA) has already offered a Shs300 billion grant to Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) to finance the construction of the flyovers on Jinja Road – Wampewo junction - Mukwano roundabout and Clock Tower junction on Entebbe Road.
Of course, many people will be quick to point at the big cost of such a project and argue that the country does not have money for projects of this magnitude. Interestingly, that is not so; Uganda can afford to put money in long-term city transportation solutions as more money is being spent on less long-term projects, not to mention how much is stolen or misused.
When the Sunday Monitor asked Kampala executive director Jennifer Musisi at a media interaction organised by African Centre for Media Excellence on Wednesday whether by pursuing the flyover project KCCA was not throwing good money into a short-term solution for an otherwise long-term problem, she said that was the work of government and other government agencies to invest into railway systems.
Ms Musisi said as far as they were concerned, JICA had offered to build flyovers and they will follow that, hoping that someone else will offer more money to build a city metro for the long term.
The average cost of constructing a double rail track in Africa’s recent railway projects [Lagos-Kaduna and Abuja-Kaduna] stands at $3.5 million per kiliometre [about Shs8.75b]. The Kampala flyover project is expected to cost about $150 million [about Shs375 billion]. This means this money can fund construction of a double-track of railway line of about 42km. This is slightly shorter than the Kampala-Entebbe Expressway, which is projected to be 51km.
The Expressway, whose construction is underway, is expected to cost $476 million (Shs1.19 trillion), the project is likely to be complete by 2016. It is funded by Chinese government through a concessional loan. The project will attract a 2 per cent interest rate repayable to the Exim Bank within 40 years. The road will attract road toll payable by motorists and commuters interested in accessing Entebbe International Airport within 30 minutes.
The six-lane road will cost $9.33 million per kilometre, this is triple the average cost of constructing a double-track dual-gauge railway line in recent projects in Africa. A dual-gauge railway is a line that provides for trains to move in two different directions. This means had the government chosen to put this money into building a railway system, then it could use more or less the same money to build light double railway lines on Kampala-Entebbe, Kampala-Jinja, Kampala-Kyengera, Kampala-Gayaza and Kampala-Port Bell routes.
So what Kampala needs to tame the current traffic mess is invest in a commuter light train system – a Kampala Metro! The Kampala Metro system can cover the Kampala-Entebbe (42km), Kampala-Gayaza (20km), Kampala-Nabbingo (25km), Kampala-Bujuko (25km) – this is along the Mityana highway, and Kampala-Mukono (25km).
In total, this 142km would cost government approximately $497 million, slightly higher than the cost of Kampala-Entebbe Expressway which in any case is not a mass transportation system and is largely aimed at making life easier for those going to the airport and to State House Entebbe.
Bureaucrats and many short term thinkers will say a lot more money will be needed to compensate for land and other properties along the construction line but that should not hold the country hostage. In many places, part of the road reserve could be used and any property within the reserve should be pulled down without compensation. The Nairobi-Mombasa Standard gauge is expected to run besides Mombasa highway. This can be adopted for Kampala.
However, the cost of an inter-city railway varies depending on the size, type and nature of technology to be used. Most developed countries like France, UK, US and Japan, use the high speed line technology which is very expensive. For example, The Haikou-Sanya 308km High Speed Line cost the Chinese $10 million (about Shs2.5b) per kilometre.
Large cities often build metro systems known as underground, subway or tube. The trains are electricity powered by a third rail. They are also separate from other traffic usually without level crossing. They run through tunnels and sometimes on elevated structures (overhead-rail lines).
Underground and elevated railways are more expensive compared to level railway lines common in African countries. Rail lines vary in size by gauge namely; broad gauge 1,676mm, Standard gauge 1,435mm, and narrow gauge 1,000mm.
This implies that Uganda can afford rehabilitating the current train routes for passenger purposes basing on the relative costs involved. Rift Valley Railways (RVR) took over the management of the Uganda railway transport from Uganda Railway Corporation in November 2006 after acquiring 25 years of concession. The same company is currently operating passenger trains in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. On the Ugandan side, not a lot has been done.
In an interview, RVR Western General Manager Mark Rumanyika told the Sunday Monitor that unlike Kenya, RVR in Uganda was not offered a passenger licence as part of the concession in 2006.
“We are in substantive discussions with stakeholders, mostly KCCA, to have operational passenger trains by the end of this year,” said Mr Rumanyika.
Commenting on the passenger trains used to ferry people to Kampala after a taxi operators’ strike a year ago, Mr Rumanyika said government called upon RVR for help and offered them a licence to operate during the strike period.
“We are eager to partner with government to offer our services to the people of Kampala and residents in the outskirts once we get a passenger train licence. We currently have five new coaches parked. We also used them during the Kampala City carnivore to transport people,” he added.
Mr Rumanyika said the line between Tororo, Gulu and Packwach is only awaiting Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) to conclude refurbishments of railway crossing intersections.
Many experts argue that with good political will, the country can invest in building extra lines of the rail line intercrossing Kampala.
Advances in technology have also lowered the cost of operating a train transport system, previously trains were using coal but lately, they are electric powered. Uganda has greater hydro-power potential to sustain a train system. The existent rail track can still be upgraded to support train coaches that are electric powered.
In other countries
Elsewhere in the world, countries like Nigeria, Libya, Ethiopia, China, and India have embarked on constructing and rehabilitating their railway transport systems.
The Railway Gazette website lists a 2009 project in Afghanistan as one of the recent railway construction works. The 75km single-track project cost $170 million, slightly higher than the Kampala-Jinja flyover project.
In 2008, Libya began a railway project; a standard gauge, double-track line awarded to Russia Railways for a cost of 2.5 billion Euros ($2.8billion) for 554km. This will cost $5 million per kilometre. It later signed another contract in 2009 with China Railway Construction Corporation for $805 million for 172km railway from Tripoli-Ras Edjer at $4.7 per kilometre.
Furthermore, India Railways has operated a functional train system for many years. It is now planning to introduce new coaches using German technology and phase-out the locally made Linke Holfmann Bush (LBH) Coaches. The LBH coaches have a lifeline of 25 years and cost around Rs1.5 Crore (Shs150 million) per coach. The new LBH AC coaches cost about Rs2.5crore (Shs250 million). They can serve a period of 30 years. Uganda can consider investing is such a long lasting solution to the transport problem in Kampala and beyond as opposed to creating road space.
According the national census of 2002, the population of Kampala stood at 1.2 million people, with the latest estimates projecting it at two million. With a 3.6 population growth rate, Kampala will have an additional one million people in the next 10 years, who will exert more stress on the current road network.