URC on the spot for acquiring 4 locomotives incompatible with Uganda’s rail

URC on the spot for acquiring 4 locomotives incompatible with Uganda's rail
The newly acquired locomotives

Kampala, Uganda | By URN | Members of Parliament (MPs) are demanding a probe into how Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) purchased four locomotives that are incompatible with the rails running in Uganda.  

URC acquired the four refurbished locomotives from South African manufacturer, Grindrond Rail in August this year, as part of its efforts to revamp the century-old metre gauge railway. The locomotives bought at Shs 48 billion have the capacity to haul between 750 to 1,500 tons.

Prior to this new acquisition, the corporation last received new locomotives in 1982, most of which have since broken down. However, the newly acquired ones have not hit the rail ever since, and the parliamentary committee on Commissions, State Authorities and Statutory Enterprises (Cosase) has now learnt that the problem stems from a lack of compatibility.

James Oketch, a railways engineer and president of the Uganda Railways Workers Union says that when the locomotives were being brought to Uganda, they were hauled dead, a term used to describe moving the locomotive without providing any motive power. He says that the railway line in Uganda is designed for 80 pounds, yet the new locomotives are designed to run on a 90 pounds line.

He says currently the corporation is stuck with the locomotives because they were purchased without due diligence. Oketch was interfacing with the Cosase committee chaired by Nakawa West MP Joel Ssenyonyi.

According to Victor Byemaro, the URC Workers Union national general secretary, the locomotives are too long for the short triangular junction of the rail line and it cannot turn. But acting URC chief finance officer David Musoke said that there is a ‘small problem’, but it is not true that the locomotive cannot work.  

“The locomotives are okay, except for what we call the triangle, that is where the train turns from and these lines are old, so we cannot risk these new machines turning on them, so they are working on them, and we cannot drive a locomotive in a reverse way.”

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He says it is now just about installing the right gauge of the line, adding that the locomotives should be up and running within two weeks.

When contacted on phone, URC’s chief civil engineer Geoffrey Obara said it is not true that the locomotives are defective, but said that the operators are being trained on how best to run them and that locomotive drivers are undergoing training in the Nalukolongo workshop.

“There is no problem, if there was, how did the locomotives come from Mombasa, were they airlifted?,” he asked.

Ssenyonyi says that they will now summon the management of the URC to ascertain why the locomotives are grounded.