The Wonderful Story of the Uganda Railway
A GLIMPSE OF THE UGANDA JUNGLE PENETRATED BY THE RAILWAY
The subjugation of British East Africa, more generally known as Uganda, was completed through the initiative of the British Government. It was realised from the first that little could be accomplished with this slice of the continent, aggregating 89,500 square miles, until a railway was built. But to drive a steelway through a new territory for some 600 miles, which was incapable of extending the slightest support, where there were no roads, with the markets thousands of miles distant and labour non-
Accordingly, in 1893, a survey party was dispatched from the coast to make the preliminaries. The expedition was exciting and full of adventure. In the innermost stretches of the country the party encountered a certain amount of native hostility, and had their tussles with the wild denizens of the forest, as well as suffering the trials and tribulations incidental to the crossing of a waterless country. In due time they came back with a feasible location, but pointed out that everything was dead against the engineer, owing to the broken character of the country to be traversed, the necessity to introduce steep banks and sharp curves, and the difficulties that would arise from feeding those on the grade.
A TYPICAL VIEW UPON THE UP-
Owing to the rolling nature of the country extensive bridging and heavy cuttings were required.
But the British Government was resolved to build the line at all hazards. It was estimated that the provision of the railway would involve an expenditure of about £3,000,000. This figure was based upon that of other British-
Mombasa was selected as the constructional base, the line being pushed inland from the seaboard. The remote distance of the markets from the constructional site proved a heavy handicap, because supreme difficulty was experienced in maintaining a steady supply of stores and materials.
The labour problem was more acute. The workmen knew nothing about work according to the white man’s interpretation. Whatever skilled labour was required had to be imported, mostly from India, and these men did not take long to realise, after their arrival, that they controlled the situation. Now and again the steadiness of toiling was rudely unset by small sectional strikes or attempts to take advantage of local conditions; but the threat to send the malcontents home generally sufficed to quell striking tactics, while attempts at hoodwinking the “boss” by loitering over the work did not meet with much success, as these efforts generally were met with the introduction of piecework rates.
The workmen’ way of doing things, too, often was a source of amusement and procrastination. They knew nothing about wheel-
One of the engineers who went out to Uganda from the United States to assist in the erection of the viaducts, and who met the African workmen at close quarters for the first time, was highly amused, and laughed long and loud at the primitive practices adopted; but he altered his opinion in the course of a few days. “Why, an embankment was like an ant-
THE FOE OF THE RAILWAY-
During the making of the Uganda Railway the construction camps were raided frequently by lions, and at one time their persistent attacks stopped the work completely.
Owing to the coast terminus being at Mombasa, the first big work was the crossing of the channel to gain the mainland. For constructional purposes a timber trestle was laid down, the erection of the viaduct known as the Salisbury Bridge, 1,700 feet in length, being carried out at leisure. This bridge is of the trough type and supported on steel bents. The plate girders were riveted up on stages on the Mombasa shore and floated out to position between the piers on pontoons, and then hoisted into place.
From the seaboard the land rises brokenly and suddenly 530 feet in the first 16 miles. To overcome this difference in elevation a grade of 1 in 50 was found to be unavoidable. The country is thickly covered with jungle, these conditions prevailing as far as Maji Ya Chumvi, 35 miles inland, at an altitude of 570 feet. This is virtually the limit of the coastal belt, because from this point to Maungu, at mile 85, stretches what is known as the Taru desert, an evil country covered with a thick, thorny scrub. Even workmen and animals appear to dread this almost waterless, depressing tract, because it offers few evidences of being favoured by man or beast. Driving the steelway through this scrub, which presented a forbidding aspect, harassed the engineers sorely. Its evil reputation -
Although railway construction was carried out with supreme difficulty through this stretch, the first serious balk came when the Tsavo River was reached near mile 133. The waterway is not very impressive, though it has cut a channel between two lofty banks, while the bridge is not a big one as bridges go. It comprises four spans, each of 60 feet, carried on three substantial stone piers. The bridge is of the plate girder top-
A STEEL TRESTLE BRIDGE ON THE UGANDA RAILWAY
But it was not the setting of the steel which occasioned the delay, nor scarcity of labour, but a far more formidable foe. A large camp had been formed on the east side of the river, and work was proceeding quite uneventfully when a number of man-
Through the lions construction was brought to a standstill, and the ill-
Although he finally succeeded in ridding the country of this terror and restored confidence in the minds of his workmen, it was not before the voracious creatures had devoured twenty-
Still climbing, with grades ranging from 1 in 100 to 1 in 66 and 1 in 50, making sweeping curves, striking across deep rifts and through deep cuttings hewn out of massive shoulders, and describing big loops a mile or more in length to ascend a few feet, through rolling and open country and dense jungle, the railway reaches Nairobi 327 miles out of Mombasa, and 5,450 feet above the sea level. Here the climate is delightful, cool, and even bracing. As this is practically the half-
THE MAKING OF THE UGANDA RAILWAY: READY FOR THE RAILS
A bridge completed and the grade finished to foundation level.
[From Railway Wonders of the World by Frederick A. Talbot, published 1913]