The construction of the so-called “lunatic line,” or Uganda Railway, began in 1896 from Mombasa on the Kenyan coast and finally reached Kisumu on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria in 1901, costing an estimated four lives for every mile of track laid along the way—including some deaths infamously caused by a pair of man-eating lions on the Tsavo plains.
Today, in the centre of Kenya’s capital city, the Nairobi Railway Museum is dedicated to the history of the country’s rail network. There you’ll find an intriguing jumble of artifacts plus a variety of exhibits and ephemera that illustrate the construction and running of the railway. There are models of railway engines that operated on the line, photographs of the railway throughout its history, and a varied selection of other oddities, including an interesting motorized railway bicycle.
In the surrounding yard are a number of mostly steam and some early diesel locomotives which operated as part of what was initially the Kenya-Uganda Railway, then the East Africa Railway Company and currently the Kenyan Railways Corporation. The most impressive are some of the company’s old “Garratts,” a particularly large articulated steam engine that was capable of hauling heavy loads over the long distances and steep inclines of the narrow gauge track. The museum is connected by track to the main Nairobi station and some of the engines are reportedly used for excursions.
Wandering on and around the locomotives makes for a lovely outing and gives you a surprising amount of insight into the nation’s development. The museum itself is almost a time capsule within a time capsule—a well preserved effort from the post-independence days of the 1970s to conserve an emblematic part of its colonial past. Fitting then is the location of the museum, tucked away amid the modern skyscrapers of the central business district. The rising buildings are a constant reminder that all these days are past, a fact further underlined by the ongoing replacement of the obsolete track laid in the 1800s.