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Saturday, 15 December, 2001, 18:00 GMT
East Africa marks railway jubilee
Three African presidents have met in the Kenyan town of Kisumu to celebrate the 100th anniversary of one of the continent's most important railway lines.

The railway from Kisumu on Lake Victoria to Kenya's Indian Ocean port of Mombasa opened the East African interior to world trade.

Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi was joined by Tanzania's Benjamin Mkapa and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, both of whose countries have benefited directly from the line to Lake Victoria.

But in an indication of the serious problems now besetting the line, none of the leaders actually used the train to arrive in Kisumu - Mr Moi and Mr Museveni both arrived by air while Mr Mkapa came by road.

President Moi said that the railway was a "lifeline" for the region and he called on his neighbours to do more to bring the region together.

The line was, he said, more important than ever since the revival of the East African Community between the three states, which had broken up in 1997.

Lion threat

It was known as the "Lunatic Line" when it was built under the British colonial administration because of the complexity of the route.

Back in 1901, Kisumu was known as Port Florence after the wife of the railway engineer who completed the track, Ronald Preston.
Kenyan lion
A lion also killed and ate a British police superintendent at one of the stations

The line, which stretched for more than 900 km (580 miles), took four and half years to build and cost the equivalent of $727m in today's money.

Construction work was hampered by storms, strikes, local hostility, disease among the workers and, frequently, by lion attacks.

In one incident, during the erection of the Tsavo bridge, the big cats mauled to death 28 Indian workers.

In recent years, the line has been making heavy losses and passenger services are no longer being run.

Kenya Railways itself has lost passenger confidence after a series of freight and passenger rail accidents.

See also:

04 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Kenya
21 Aug 00 | Africa
Kenya's crumbling railways
15 Jan 01 | Africa
East African Community reborn
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