The first main line railway in Kenya was the Uganda Railway, running inland from the port of Mombasa. As the railway’s name suggests, it was planned to connect Uganda with the coast; but costs and engineering difficulties caused the project to be curtailed and the first terminus was in actually in Kenya, on the shores of Lake Victoria, with connection to Uganda by steamboat. The 580 mile (930km) line from Mombasa to Port Florence (present day Kisumu) on Lake Victoria opened in sections between 1898 and 1901. The originally planned line into Uganda itself, now taking the form of a branch from Nakuru around the northern end of Lake Victoria, had to wait until after the First World War before work commenced, and was not completed through to Kampala until 1931.
The chosen gauge for the railway was metre gauge, which had been used with some success in India. Through running with other African railways was not at that time envisaged, although fortuitously the gauge was the same as that used by the railways of neighbouring German East Africa (Tanzania). Various branches were later constructed from the main line.
During the First World War, an international line connecting the systems of Kenya and Tanganyika was created from Voi through the border town of Taveta to Moshi in Tanganyika. The international connection closed in 1923, though the 127km line from Voi to Taveta survived until the early 2000s. In 2002, Kenya Railways announced that this line was to be rehabilitated.
In Mombasa itself, a number of narrow gauge lines were laid though the streets, on which ran hand propelled trolleys carrying passengers and freight. Some of these lines may have predated the Uganda Railway. The gauge was 2 feet (610mm).
In 2016, it was announced that a new light rail system would be constructed in Nairobi.
In 2017, a new 472km, standard (1435mm) gauge railway opened between Mombasa and Nairobi. Construction of a 120km extension of this railway from Nairobi to Naivasha commenced in 2016. Detailed plans are in place for a further 369km from Naivasha to Malaba. Ultimately, the new railway will continue to Kampala in Uganda and effectively replace the existing route.
In 2022, work was reported to have begun a long term project to establish a metre gauge commuter rail service in Mombasa. This would involve rehabilitation of the line between the former Central Station and Miritini, with a new line from there to the Mombasa Terminus of the standard gauge railway.
© 2006-2022 Glyn Williams
Photo image from the blog of Ministry2Kenya