The 1868 expedition to Abyssinia 

Apparently the first East African Railways was constructed during the British expeditions to Abyssinia in 1867-8. This line too was built by Indian labourers this was the 5’6” Indian Broad gauge. The British Expedition to Abyssinia was a rescue mission and punitive expedition carried out in 1868.... A railway, complete with locomotives and some twenty miles (32 km) of track, was to be laid across the coastal plain, and at the landing ...

Indian Army

10th Regt of Bengal Lt Cavalry
12th Regt of Bengal Cavalry
3rd Regt of Bombay Lt Cavalry

21st Punjab Regt Bengal Native Infantry
23rd Punjab Regt Bengal Native Infantry (Pioneers)
2nd Bombay Native Infantry (Grenadier)
3rd Bombay Native Infantry
10th Bombay Native Infantry
21st Bombay Native Infantry (Marine)
25th Bombay Native Light Infantry
27th Bombay Native Infantry (1st Baluch)

No 1 Company of Bombay Native Artillery

Corps of Madras Sappers and Miners
Corps of Bombay Sappers and Miners


Ethio-Djibouti Railways

The Ethio-Djibouti Railway (French: Chemin de Fer Djibouto-Éthiopien (C.D.E.) is a metre gauge railway in the Horn of Africa that once connected Addis Ababa to the port city of Djibouti. The operating company was also known as the Ethio-Djibouti Railways. The railway was built in 1894–1917 to connect the Ethiopian capital city to the then-French colony of Djibouti. During early operations, it provided landlocked Ethiopia with its only access to the sea. After World War II, the railway progressively fell into a state of disrepair due to competition from road transport.

India pledges 300 mln dollars for Ethio-Djibouti railway .... It was constructed by the French for the Emperor, Menelik in the early 1900s. .... CCCC (1800), a Chinese government-owned transportation infrastructure company, will be ... China's CCECC completes track laying of Ethiopia- Djibouti railway.

Uganda Railways

Above, an interesting historic map of 1892 that has several major historic points that are discussed to this day.

Schneppen’s assertion is based primarily on the terms of the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty of 1 July 1890. In the Treaty, Germany and Great Britain agreed on several territorial interests. Germany gave up its claim of Zanzibar Sultanate-which then stretched to what is today the Kenyan coast-in exchange for Heligoland and the coast of Dar es Salaam.
While the Heligoland treaty does not include any mention of a mountain, the demarcation lines do not seem to have changed around that part of the borderline. It seems more plausible that in giving away its claim on Zanzibar and its entire Sultanate, which then included what is now the Kenyan Coast, the Germans acquired Kilimanjaro.

Heligoland is a small German archipelago in the North Sea. The islands were at one time Danish and later British possessions. The islands are located in the Heligoland Bight in the south eastern corner of the North Sea, and had a population of 1,127 at the end of 2016.Wikipedia

This map further illustrates the initial proposed rail route in 1891… Line of first Reconnaissance proposed by Sir Guilford Molesworth running parallel to Athi River from around Tsavo, also a typical straight line from Mombasa to Ugowe Bay (Lake Victoria) is also drawn.

“The route recommended for the projected railway as illustrated in (Permanent Way by M.F Hill) is practically that which Sir Guildfield Molesworth, in his report on the proposed railway, dated May 1st 1891, states’ present the only probable chance of obtaining an inexpensive railway’ . The main point of difference being that the valley of the Nzoia River is flowing down to the Lake Victoria instead of the Nyando River. Obligatory points on the proposed route Taru, Salt River, Kedong valley, Lake Victoria, the Guaso Ngishu Plateau and the Nzoia River Valley”.

Looking closer later on of that area during the surveying perspective, from Ugowe Bay, the surveyors marched in a north-west direction through South Kavirondo and entered Mumias on May 18th 1892, a dwelling-place named after a chief.

The survey team split in two, their primary object of finding a suitable harbour on the North shore of Victoria Nyanza brought them here in bringing the maps-to- date and second party remained in Mumia’s.

It is also thought the fighting in Uganda was over and safe for caravans to cross the Nile. Earlier tensions had continued to flare throughout most of 1891 between the Catholics and the Protestants. Although the factions had agreed not to attack each other, a murder in Mengo sparked off a war that would change the balance of power.

The parties for Uganda and the lake left on May 21st and crossed into the Nzoia River below Mumias by means of the Berthon boats.

Since, Sir Guildfield Molesworth in his initial findings mentions and possibly esteemed this proposal as per, his quote “The main point of difference being that the valley of the Nzoia River is flowing down to the Lake Victoria instead of the Nyando River”. After detailed surveying was carried out ,It was now established that Ugowe Bay (Port Florence) now called Kisumu would take precedents over the initial proposal.


Kenya Uganda Railways

Since the British were already established in India and had been there for over a century or so, they already had many Indian artisans available in many capacities working under the British and to add further, also looking closely at many influential factors in the big decision making also came the Suez Canal and the big question in the Nile’s Source was a factor in sourcing 1860-3 (Speke and Grant) and building up on that. Most of the Imperialistic influents in many positions were already involved in many aspects of trade and many other Colonial administrations thus the need for Suez Canal for an essential shorter route through from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and into the Indian Ocean was most important. Most if not all influential Colonial Military personal and ranked of the British Army came from British India during the late 1800, early 1900’s and this was the case also during the WW1 campaigns in Eastern and Northern Africa. The Muslim Punjabi and Sikh soldiers were stationed along the East Coast in the late 1800’s.

Sir William Mackinnon who had very strong influential connections with British India through his large shipping business, also owned one of four chartered company “The Imperial British East Africa company” chartered in 1888 (first East African British currency is also dated 1888), the only private initiative authorized by Great Britain to work in East Africa. The building of Uganda Railways needed some mixture of labour force and also skilled personal; the initial thoughts was to get the Chinese workers involved, but the British later opted for Indians mainly from the Punjab and Goa.

The total recruitment campaign of Gujarati’s and Punjabis was handed over to a Mr Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee who had set up recruitment spots along the West Coast and Punjab (remembering there was no Pakistan). Supposedly this would also make communication amongst each other easier as East Africa for the Colonial British Empire was in its infancy. The British were also under a lot of pressure too, they had to rush to get to the source of the Nile before any other European Nations did and inevitably the British feared France the most as they had already occupied Obock in Somalia land (acquiring 1862) and not because of Germany as many would have initially thought, all this came about and was a challenging movement for the Europeans called “The scramble for Africa”.

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Sheffield No 1 Railroad Handcar

Over 2,500 workers died while laying the Kenyan- Uganda railways that is approximately four workers per mile of track, high number of those killed were from mostly the Indian sub-continent who had left their country and come to work on foreign land on contract basis. It is about time they got some deserving recognition, here is the legacy they left behind:


In 1910 Sir John Kirk remarked on the work of Indian Traders in Nairobi:

In fact drive away the Indians and you may as well shut up the Protectorate. It is only by means of the Indian Trader that articles of European use can be obtained at moderate prices.


Winston Churchill in “My African Journey”: It is by Indian labour that the one vital railway on which everything else depends was constructed.


Nearly all the workers involved on the construction of the Uganda railway line came from British India. An agent was appointed in Karachi responsible for recruiting the workers, artisans and subordinate officers and a branch office was located in Lahore, the principal recruiting centre. Workers were sourced from villages in the Punjab and sent to Karachi on specially chartered steamers belonging to the British India Steam Navigation Company. Shortly after recruitment began, a plague broke out in India, seriously delaying the advancement of the railway. The Government of India only permitted recruitment and emigration to resume on the creation of a quarantine camp at Budapore, financed by the Uganda Railway, and where recruits were required to spend fourteen days in quarantine before departure.

A total of 35,729 labourers and artisans were recruited along with 1,082 subordinate officers, totalling 36,811 persons. Each worker signed a contract for three years at twelve rupees per month with free rations and return passage to their place of enlistment. They received half-pay when in hospital and free medical attendance.

Recruitment continued between December 1895 and March 1901, and the first coolies began to return to India after their contracts ended in 1899. 2,493 workers died during the construction of the railway between 1895 and 1903 at a rate of 357 annually. While most of the surviving Indians returned home, 6,724 decided to remain after the line's completion, creating a community of Indians in East Africa


The Planning and the Construction of Ugandan Railways


In 1907 Winston Churchill noted that problems arising from the impact of European and African involved also a third race, the Asiatic. The industry, thrift and sharp business acumen of the Indian} combined with his ability to live on a few shillings a month, would give him economic superiority if unchecked. After discussion of the problem Churchill put the case of the British Indian.
Adobe Acrobat document [67.1 KB]


Kenya – Uganda Railway: A short history


The first operational railway in East Africa was a two foot gauge trolley line in the port of Mombasa operated by hand propelled wagons, the original route being supplemented with track recovered from the abortive Central African Railway which had reached a mere 11 kms inland from Mombasa Island.


By 1896 all was ready for a second attempt to build a railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria and the inaugural platelaying ceremony was performed on 30th May, 1896. However the German East African railway had already commenced construction of the line from Tanga in May 1893, but after taking two years to build 40kms of line, the Usumbara Bahn was declared bankrupt and construction had to be taken over by the German Government. The line eventually reaching Moshi in 1912.


1896 - 1926: Uganda Railways
The Railway in East Africa began as Uganda Railways, dating back to as early as 1896 when the first railway line was laid down in Mombasa. Undertaken by the British Colonial government, the intention was to get the railway line to landlocked Uganda, one of its protectorates. The main reason behind the project was to exploit its resources and protect the source of the river Nile a life line of Egypt, a British sphere of Influence. The construction of the railway line started in 1896 and was completed in 1926.

Pay day on the Railway. The minimum wage was set at 15 rupees, approx. $US 50.50 per month, regardless of productivity.


Construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway


Disassembled ferries were shipped from Scotland by sea to Mombasa and then by rail to Kisumu where they were reassembled and provided a service to Port Bell and, later, other ports on Lake Victoria (see section below). A 7 miles (11 km) rail line between Port Bell and Kampala was the final link in the chain providing efficient transport between the Ugandan capital and the open sea at Mombasa, more than 900 miles (1,400 km) away.

Branch lines were built to Thika in 1913, Lake Magadi in 1915, Kitale in 1926, Naro Moro in 1927 and from Tororo to Soroti in 1929. In 1929 the Uganda Railway became Kenya and Uganda Railways and Harbours (KURH), which in 1931 completed a branch line to Mount Kenya and extended the main line from Nakuru to Kampala in Uganda. In 1948 KURH became part of the East African Railways Corporation, which added the line from Kampala to Kasese in western Uganda in 1956.[19] and extended to it to Arua near the border with Zaire in 1964.

The focusing effect of railway junctions and depots created many of the interior's modern towns and ports, such as:

  • Eldoret, originally called "64" after its distance, in miles, from the railhead at the time
  • Jinja, a city and port close to the outlet of Lake Victoria, the source of the River Nile
  • Kisumu, a city and port on Lake Victoria allowing ferry transport between Kenya, Tanganyika (modern Tanzania) and Uganda
  • Kitale, a small farming community in the foothills of Mount Elgon
  • Nairobi, started as a rail depot, becoming the capital of Kenya.
  • Nakuru, where the main line splits, one branch going to Kisumu and the other to Uganda
  • Port Bell, a rail-linked port, near to Kampala, on Lake Victoria allowing ferry transport between Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda

1927 – 1948: Kenya-Uganda Railways & Harbours
In 1927 the name changed from Uganda Railways to Kenya-Uganda Railways. In the same year, "harbours" was added after the administration of the harbours was combined with that of the railways and the name became Kenya-Uganda Railways & Harbours. The railway system in Kenya & Uganda operated together until 1948.

1948 – 1966 East African Railways & Harbours
In 1948, the name changed to East African Railways & Harbours. This was because Kenya, Uganda & Tanzania were now under the same British Colonial Administration. Following the terms of the Versailles Treaty in 1919 Germany lost all her colonies worldwide. The colonies became the mandate territories of the League of Nations (currently United Nations). Victorious nations surrounding the mandate territories were allowed to administer them on behalf of the League of Nations.

1966 – 1969 – East African Railways Corporation
Following independence, the three East African Presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere and Milton Obote met in Arusha and came up with the Arusha declaration in 1966. In the declaration, it was resolved that efficiency in parastatals needed to be improved. One of the parastatals identified for reform was East African Railways & Harbours. It was decided in this meeting that harbours be divorced from the railways administration. This was done purely for the purpose of efficiency. In 1969, the name changed to East African Railways Corporation.

1969 – 1978 – Kenya Railways Corporation
By 1978, the distrust between the three East African leaders Nyerere, Kenyatta and Idi Amin had reached fever pitch. This was partly due to the different political ideologies that the three leaders practiced. Additionally, Nyerere and Amin believed that Kenya was benefiting more from the East African Community than Tanzania and Uganda. Personal differences between the three leaders culminated in the break-up of the East African Community in 1977. The break up led to the birth of Kenya Railways, Uganda Railways & Tanzania Railways as separate entities.

2006 – To-date – Rift Valley Railways
Rift Valley Railways (RVR) took over the operations of the Kenya and Uganda Railways on 1st November, 2006. RVR was established on October 14, 2005, when the Government of Kenya and the Government of Uganda jointly tendered through a bidding process, a 25 year concession for the rehabilitation, operation and maintenance of the railways then run by Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) and Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) respectively.




The Kenya – Uganda Railway was built by the Imperial British East Africa company back in the 1890s. Construction of the line began at the Kilindini Harbour in Mombasa in 1895. Around 1900, the line arrived at the present site of the city of Nairobi. Indeed, Nairobi owes its existence to railway engineers who drained a vast swamp, thus enabing the construction of permanent buildings. Indian labourers began commercial activities to cater for railway crews and colonial administrators. The railway arrived at Port Florence (Kisumu) around 1901.


Eventually, the British Government took over the territories of Kenya and Uganda from the Imperial British East Africa Company. In 1920, Kenya became a colony of the Crown under direct administration of the Colonial Office in London.


The railway was expanded from Eldoret to Kampala, bypassing the use of ships on Lake Victoria from Kisumu. Additional branch lines were built from Nakuru to Nyahururu, from Nakuru to Rongai and from Konza to Magadi. The invasion of Ethiopia by Italy during World War 2 forced the British to build a railway from Nairobi to Nanyuki in order to supply its forces. British troops forced the Italians out of Ethiopia and restored Emperor Haile Selassie to his throne.


After independence in the early 1960s, railway and port operations in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania were administered by a single body: the East African Railways and Harbours. The break up of the East African Community in 1977 marked the beginning of the end for the region’s railway system. Each of the three East African countries took up running its own system. In Kenya, railway and port operations were split between two state-owned corporations: Kenya Railways and Kenya Ports Authority. The railway became starved of funds.


In Uganda, civil war between 1979 and 1986 paralyzed railway transport which is yet to recover to this day.


More on Kenya-Uganda Railways:


Sikh Heritage:


Nairobi-Mombasa train with Kenya Railways, Nairobi airport transfers to railway station Rift Valley Railways.Train safari journeys from nairobi to mombasa to Nairobi african great train travel and tours. Book your Train travel in Kenya from Nairobi - Mombasa, operated by Rift Valley Railways


The Lunatic Line



Weston Langford Railway Photography

Documenting railways and related infrastructure since 1960


The Indian migrants who built Kenya's 'lunatic line'


Mile 581, 19th Dec 1901 reached the shores of Ugowe Bay (Lake Victoria). That is Florence Preston's wife, the foreman plater at the railhead Roland Preston drove home the final key of the railway.
Port Florence (Kisumu) was named after Chief Engineer Mr Whitehouse's wife, but it was Ronald’s wife Florence Preston who was photographed ‘driving the last spike’ on the shore of Lake Victoria.

Port Florence had been renamed Kisumu (a name derived from the Luo word ‘sumo’ meaning the place of barter trade).


The railway line was finished in December 1901 as the sun was making its descent on the town of Kisumu. To commemorate the end of construction, Mrs. Ronald Preston, wife of the plate laying engineer, drove the final steel key into the rail.


In an interesting twist, the chief engineer’s wife Mrs. Whitehouse and Mrs. Preston had identical first names, Florence. “Port Florence was named after the Chief Engineer’s wife Florence Whitehouse, but it was Ronald’s wife Florence Preston who was photographed ‘driving the last spike’ on the shore of Lake Victoria…” Preston himself inscribed in his book, Oriental Nairobi. Because of the photo, most accounts say the town was named after Mrs. Preston.


The confusion was later resolved when the name was changed to Kisumu – Port Florence was found, somewhat inconsiderately, unworthy of the locale by Special Commissioner of Uganda, Sir Harry Johnson. In a letter, he succinctly wrote “If the native name of the place be laid aside, the European name to be chosen should be of some member of the British royal family or of some great explorer associated with the discovery of Lake Victoria, Nyanza.


” All told, it took five years to complete the railway line and it would take another three decades before it was completely extended to Kampala. And while that seems like a long time – consider that the American Transcontinental Railroad took just six years – what’s truly impressive about East Africa’s line is that it wasn’t building just a railway.

Uganda Railways

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Although called Uganda Railways, there was no railway line  as such from Kenya to Uganda,1896-to Dec-1901 Mombasa-Kisumu (Fort Florence) 581 miles covered nearly 2800 mainly Indians died/killed. Disassembled ferries were shipped from Scotland by sea to Mombasa and then by rail to Kisumu where they were reassembled and provided a service to Port Bell and, later, other ports (Entebbe) on Lake Victoria.  A 7 miles (11 km) rail line between Port Bell and Kampala was the final link in the chain providing efficient transport between the Ugandan capital and the open sea at Mombasa, more than 900 miles (1,400 km) away. Cont.......

Early in the 1820s David Napier conceived the grand notion of the Firth of Clyde 'Watering-places' which, for more than a century, were to occupy a special affection in the hearts of Scots in general and Clydesiders in particular, and the nostalgia of the trips 'doon the watter' lingers on. At this time Napier was the acknowledged genius of the steamship constructors but was frustrated by the reluctance of sailing ship owners and operators to change, and by the temerity of potential passengers. He had already resorted to ownership of vessels which he had equipped with his steam engines and set up a steam packet service between the Clyde and Ulster.


Colonel Ewart S. Grogan

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East African Railways and Harbours Corporation

East African Railways and Harbours


Kampala to Nairobi


The Mail Train ran three times a week between Nairobi and Kampala and conveyed first and second class accommodation only.  Many parents living in Uganda in the 1950s and early 60s sent their children to school in Kenya and School Trains ran between Kampala and Nairobi/Eldoret at the start and end of each 12 week term.  There were separate trains for secondary school boys and girls, but boys and girls attending primary school were conveyed on the same train. Sometimes a secondary girls' train would have coaches attached for primary school pupils travelling to the Hill School in


Eldoret where the train arrived from Kampala in the dark at 0530.  The journey from Kampala to Eldoret took about twelve hours and that to Nairobi took about twenty four after the completion of the Busembatia to Jinja direct line in 1961.  This line cut two hours off the journey and trains no longer called at Mbulamuti (for Namasagali) after which primary kids used to be sent to bed under the eagle eye of the lady escorts.

Please note:  As far as possible the photographs appear in sequence Kampala to Nairobi, but the trains may be travelling in either direction.






Images of old East African Railways and Harbours





June 1952 to December 1969


(all in PDF format)


It is not uncommon for a country to create a railway, but it is uncommon for a railway to create a country.”


—Sir Charles Eliot, Commissioner of British East Africa in 1900-1904


The Project Gutenberg eBook, In Africa, by John T. McCutcheon

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The story of Mr.Shams ud Deen

On 24th January 1896, the first group of 360 Indian workers arrived in Mombasa to begin the construction of the Uganda railway. Mr Shams ud Deen was one of them and this is his story written by his grandson Mr.Khalid Malik.


The photo above, to many that is captioned “Station Road” just does not register where this location was, but those who have lived in beautiful Mombasa will also know that in reality, this building is no-where near todays so called “Station road”, but in fact it is sited near Treasury Square (Old town area) and presume it refers to the old trolley rail.

The trolley track, ran on from Mbarak Hinawy Road (Vasco da Gama street) to Government Square (Customs area, Leven House) and on to Nkrumah Road (Mcdonald Terraces) past the Old Law Court on to Kilindini. Once famous and important building called “the Jubilee Hall” put up to commemorate the English Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897 and also used as a meeting place for Old Town elders until 1950’s and the track also veered to the right went to the famous Mombasa Club which was built in 1897 by the trader named Rex Boustead.



Between 1890 and the early 1920s, Mombasa island was serv­ed by an unusual transport system. A light two-foot gauge railway line was laid across the island from Government Square (in the old port) to Kilindini docks, and on it were pushed by hand small trolleys which could carry goods or passengers. By 1903 a branch had been laid to the station (then in Treasury Square), the hospital, the sub-­commissioner’s house, the lighthouse at Ras Serani, the sports club and to the cemetery.

In 1900 it cost 4 annas to travel from Government Square to Kilindini, or

2    annas as far as the station. If two trolleys met on a single line, the lower ranking officer or civilian had to have his trolley lifted from the rails to allow his senior to pass.

Trolleys were withdrawn in about 1923, after which people had the choice of walking, hiring a rickshaw or taking a motor car. The first car arrived in Kenya in about 1900. A horse and carriage was a rare phenomenon, horses being very susceptible to local diseases, but can be seen in one or two early photographs.

Today, a replica trolley stands in the courtyard of Fort Jesus, on some reconstructed original line.


So what is the connection and so significance between a trolley line on Mombasa Island, running from the Old Port, where the Arab dhows anchored, to various Government buildings and Kilindini Harbour & CAR? Read on………….


Sir William Mackinnon, the ship owner in charge of the IBEA, lost no time in writing to Lord Salisbury, six months after the signing of the


Brussels Treaty, suggesting Government assistance for the construction of a 60-mile (96.5 kms) railway inland from Mombasa. He also sought aid for opening up roads and forming "stations" along the route to Lake Victoria.


As a result of this successful appeal, the Director of the IBEA in London was able to send out sufficient materials and rolling stock for building a narrow gauge light railway to cost £50,000. The following year construction got under-way, starting from a point on the mainland opposite Mombasa Island, at the head of what has now become Kilindini Harbour.


It was given the very ambitious title of the "CENTRAL AFRICA RAILWAY”, and as a symbol of the good intentions of the IBEA to open up the hinterland, sounded very impressive. However the venture got no further than seven miles (11.2 kms) before work stopped. Although it covered no more than a tiny fraction of the distance to Lake Victoria and the source of the Nile, the "Central Africa Railway" did secure a place for itself in history as one of the FIRST RAILWAY to be built in East Africa, albeit no wider than two feet (61 cms) gauge. The tracks were later pulled up and, together with some of the unused rails, were re-laid to form a trolley line on Mombasa Island, running from the Old Port, where the Arab dhows anchored, to various Government buildings and Kilindini Harbour. Until 1923 this line was mainly used by Government officials, the more senior of whom had their own trolleys and received monthly allowances to pay the Africans employed to push them.

In its original form the "Central Africa Railway" was used only once for official purposes. It was used, however, as a stylish conveyance for picnic parties venturing inland from the port.

By 1893, the IBEA had withdrawn from Buganda, but remained temporarily at Mombasa until the British Government finally "took the plunge" by declaring a protectorate over the Buganda Kingdom and neighbouring lands as an alternative to outright annexation. It then began for a "proper" railway that would run all the way from the Indian Ocean to Lake Victoria. Not only would this be a really serious indication of Britain's intentions to open up the interior for trade, and combat slavery, but it would be useful for transporting British troops, whom the government in London thought would be necessary for maintaining a permanent garrison at the source of the White Nile, near Jinja.


For political reasons this latter purpose was deliberately kept quiet in Europe, while full play was given to the anti-slavery aspect of the railway so as to disarm those opponents of the Government who were growing restive about the amount of money that would have to be spent on such a remote and risky railway.


Before pulling out of Buganda, the IBEA showed some foresight in commissioning a railway survey to find a route for the proposed line to Lake Victoria. The man chosen for the task was a British Army engineer, Captain J.R. L. MacDonald who arrived in Mombasa to begin work at the end of 1891, ironically just at the time work on the "Central Africa Railway" was abandoned.


Several routes for the railway had already been considered over the extremely rugged landscape between the coast and the lake. The one favoured by Captain F.D.Lugard-a British officer who, as Lord Lugard, was destined to become a heroic figure in Britain's colonial history-would have ascended into the highlands from the small port of Malindi by way of the Sabaki/Athi River valley. This was later rejected in favour of MacDonald's more direct route inland from Mombasa, although it ran into a serious obstacle not far from the coast in the shape of the waterless Taru Desert. This had long posed a serious problem for caravans, whose porters feared the long haul with no water at most times of the year.


MacDonald recommended positioning water tank wagons along the route during construction, with arrangements to have them constantly refilled from Mombasa. Some wagons still in use on the present-day railway bear the instruction: "Not for use beyond Taru" - a reminder of the early days.


In his survey MacDonald constantly had to bear in mind the fact that no earth-moving machinery of any kind existed in the country, nor any material for building bridges or viaducts. These facts ruled out any deep rock cuttings, or high embankments. Nor were any tunnels envisaged in his proposed alignment, even though the railway had to go from sea level to a height of 9,310 feet (2,839 m), and then down to 3,718 feet (1,134 m).


Financed by a £20,000 loan from the British Government, MacDonald and his team of 389 men spent more than a year on the survey, eventually reaching Buganda and its capital, Mengo, in June, 1892 after traversing a total of 4,280 miles (6,848 kms) including many detours and alternative alignments, especially through the rugged country on either side of the Rift Valley. Most of the proposed alignment closely followed the old caravan route established by the IBEA agents on their frequent journeys to Buganda and back to the coast.


A horse drawn tram


From available sources it appears the railway was in operation until the early 1890’s when a road was built to the palace and the “Sultanee” probably broken up for its non-ferrous metal. The line received little mention other than in the memoirs published in 1884 of Princess Salima, Sultan Bargash’s sister who dismissed it “as a so called railway” and a lithograph sketch in an Illustrated London News of 1889 featured a narrow gauge line passing the Sultan’s barracks at Mnazi Moja. An early postcard shows a horse drawn tram in town while some of the old guide books confirmed the tramway ran to Chukwani.


By the late 1880’s the European scramble for Africa saw the division of the Sultan’s mainland territory by Germany and Great Britain into the two colonies of British and German East Africa. In July 1890 two years after Sultan Bargash’s death, the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba became a British protectorate effectively governed by officials appointed from London and the once powerful Sultans became mere pawns in the politics of the region.


Six months after the Brussels Conference Act was signed, Sir William Mackinnon, the ship owner in charge of the IBEA proposed and suggested government assistance in building a Commercial Line from Mombasa.


First Rails were laid with a ceremony on the main land opposite the Mombasa Island in Aug 1890.The British fared little better with their undercapitalised Central Africa Railway, a grandiose title for a 2ft gauge line that only managed to stretch 7 miles inland from Mombasa.


The colonisation of the new territories began with the Germans constructing a metre gauge line from the port of Tanga in June 1893, but poor alignment surveys and indifferent workmanship led to bankruptcy after only 25 miles had been laid.


It was the Uganda Railway in May 1896 that laid the first rails of a metre gauge line that would run from Mombasa to Lake Victoria. This ambitious scheme with its ever increasing expenditure became known as “The Lunatic Line”.


Mackinnon Market

Mackinnon-Sclater road

Prior to the railway's construction, the British East Africa Company had begun the Mackinnon-Sclater road, a 600 miles (970 km) ox-cart track from Mombasa to Busia in Kenya, in 1890.[5] The railway followed a similar route and soon superseded it.


Mombasa Road, at Mtito Andei in March 1950, when Kevin Patience and his family were going to the coast. Eventually, they got through, thanks to a farmer .


The Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC) was the administrator of British East Africa, which was the forerunner of the East Africa Protectorate, later Kenya. The IBEAC was a commercial association founded to develop African trade in the areas controlled by the British colonial power. Created after the Berlin Treaty of 1885, it was led by William Mackinnon and built upon his company's trading activities in the region, with the encouragement of the British government through the granting of an imperial charter - although it remained unclear what this actually meant. It granted immunity of prosecution to British subjects whilst allowing them the right to raise taxes, impose custom duties, administer justice, make treaties and otherwise act as the government of the area.