Uganda Railways Cooperation (URC) has resumed passenger train services after closing them during the recent 42-day lockdown.
While announcing the lockdown in June, President Yoweri Museveni suspended both private and public transport as a measure to contain the second wave of COVID-19.
On July 30, 2021, Museveni lifted the lockdown allowing the resumption of both private and public transport under the strict observance of Standard Operating Procedures-SOPs.
Now, URC has resumed passenger train services plying the Namanve-Kampala and Kampala-Port Bell routes making five trips daily. The first trip starts in Namanve at 7 am arriving in Kampala at 7:45 am while the second coach leaves Kampala at 8 am to Portbell arriving in 25 minutes.
In the evening, another coach leaves Kampala at 4:30 pm and reaches Namanve at 5:15 pm. Another one leaves Kampala at 4:50 and reaches Portbell at 5:20 pm. At 5:20 pm, another coach sets off from Namanve to Kampala and arrives at 5:50 pm. During normal operations, the coaches make 10 trips, four between Namanve and Kampala and six between Kampala and Port bell.
Stephen Wakasenza, the Chief Commercial Officer at URC, says that they have been running trial sessions since Wednesday to be sure about the readiness of the coaches to resume operations and try out effective ways of ensuring compliance with the SOPs including physical distancing.
Last year, after the March lockdown URC delayed resuming passenger train services for more than four months for fear that passengers might not observe SOPs, which would turn it into a source of COVID-19 transmission. Charles Kateeba, the Managing Director of URC then told Uganda Radio Network that they had made an assessment and found that it was still very risky to open up.
Wakasenza says that they have cut the number of passengers by more than half so as to ensure social distancing. Before the outbreak of the COVID- 19 pandemic, over 4000 people used the coaches to travel. There are 5 coaches with 4 plying on the Kampala Namanve route and one on the Kampala Portbell route.
Each Coach has a sitting and standing capacity of between 120 to 150 passengers but is currently allowed to take a maximum of 65 passengers. The inside of the train has been marked with numbers to guide passengers on where to sit or stand in observance of social distance.
The number of sitting passengers is indicated on the wall while for standing passengers, the numbers are on the floor. Wakasenza says that they have hiked the fares from Shillings 1000 to 3000 to fill the gap left by reducing the number of passengers. Passengers pay cash at the transport office at the station and are issued a receipt which they can present to a coach inspector while on the train.
Wakasenza says the corporation will be receiving four new locomotives soon and repair 10 other coaches to boost their fleet. There is also a proposal for the expansion of the train services to the Greater Kampala Metropolitan area. The Kampala Railway project is proposed to be developed on the 53-km Mukono-Kampala-Bujuuko plus an 8-km branch to Port Bell.