The current rail network in Kenya is the metre gauge commonly referred to as ‘The Lunatic Line’. It was initially named the ‘Uganda Railway’ after its destination. Its construction began in the Port city of Mombasa in 1896 and was completed in 1901 at the lines terminus in Kisumu. Operations on the line commenced in 1903. The Lunatic Line links Kampala in Uganda with the Indian Ocean town of Mombasa.
Branch lines were built to Thika in 1913, Lake Magadi in 1915, Kitale in 1926, Naro Moru in 1927 and from Tororo to Soroti in 1929. In 1929, the Uganda railway became Kenya Uganda Railways & Habours. In 1931, a branchline to Mount Kenya was completed and the main line was extended from Nakuru to Kampala in Uganda.
The line is 1,000 mm and is a single track all through with occasional sidings and passing points to deal with opposing traffic. Construction was carried out by labourers brought in from India. After completion, some of the Indians remained behind thus creating the Indian community in East Africa.
The line was a huge logistical achievement and became strategically and economically vital for Kenya, linking the Indian Ocean with Lake Victoria and the East African interior. Branch lines were built and the railway became an essential part of safari adventures in the early decades of the 20th Century.
Recognizing the historical links between Kenya Railways and Uganda Railways, the mutual dependency of the railways on each other and the potential benefits to be derived by concessioning the railways jointly, in June 2003, the Governments of the two countries made a strategic decision that Kenya Railways (KR) and Uganda Railways (UR) should be concessioned jointly.
On 1st November last year, Rift Valley Railways (K) took over passenger and rail transport services for a period 1 year (renewable) and 25 years respectively from Kenya and Uganda Railways.
RVR is currently undertaking a number of initiatives aimed at improving quality of service and increase hauling capacity. The initiatives include:
- Acquisition of a tamping machine and a ballast regulator. These are high performance, fully automated equipment that will boost track maintenance and rehabilitation
- Acquisition of a new fleet of 20 locomotives from General Electric in the US.
- Installation of Global Positioning System based software on trains. This allows online visualization of train movement from an operations control center in Nairobi.
- Use of train simulators to train locomotive drivers;
- Locomotives and wagon overhaul and rehabilitation;
- Culverts replacement and track rehabilitation.