Saturday March 19 2016

What will the Standard Gauge Railway cost us?

The recently constructed Kasoli low-cost housing project adjacent to Tororo Railway Station will soon be pulled down ostensibly to pave way for the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway Station.

The station lies at the intersection between the Kampala line and the northern line to Pakwach and is the first major station in Uganda along the Kenya-Uganda Railway which runs from Mombasa.

Kasoli was one of the biggest slums in the country and sprouted around the biggest railway station in the country. It recently benefited from a UN-Habitat slum upgrade project to the tune of Shs5 billion and would upon completion see 250 low-cost houses.

There are, however, many questions that need to be answered before the bulldozers move in but for now two will suffice:

First, Tororo railway station, which was set up in colonial times, already has a big chunk of land on which the passenger platform, offices, locomotive workshops and extensive staff quarters sit. Is this land not adequate for the new station that it now requires crossing the Nyangole Road to encroach on the slum land? Or were the new low-cost houses built on railway reserve land?

Second, the discussion about building a Standard Gauge Railway has been ongoing for many years. Why wasn’t this factored in before upgrading the slum?

Clearly there seems to be a problem with our planning or our perception of the new railway!

It should be noted that the difference between the narrow gauge railway (3 feet 6 inches) that the colonial government bequeathed to us and the Standard Gauge Railway (4 feet 8 inches) that we wish to build is one foot and two inches (1ft 2in).

Can this not be accommodated in the railway reserve land which measures 50 feet, and should it cost us so much?

What we are seeing in Tororo over the new station is likely to play out in Kampala, Jinja and other major railway stations at a far greater cost as most of the original railway land has been taken away for free and given to private businessmen and businesswomen to build shopping malls.

It is this same land that the public will be asked to compensate hefty sums of money to bring it back for railway use. Nsambya railway quarters are a case in point!

Government, therefore, needs to clear the air on the status of the original railway land and justify new land acquisition so that the SGR (acronym for standard gauge railway) project does not become an avenue for ostentation.