Railhead saloon

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Nairobi Railway Museum The railway museum is situated at the north-west end of Nairobi station and can be seen from the Uhuru Highway where it crosses the main line. The museum was established in 1971 by the then East African Railways and Harbours Corporation to preserve and display relics and records of the railhead saloon of East Africa from their inception to the present day. Brief History of the Railways in East Africa 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.

After leaving Mombasa, the line had to cross the waterless Taru Plain, a slow job with every drop of fresh water having to be taken by train from Mombasa to the construction camps. By 1898 the line had reached the Tsavo river. At first the line was carried across the river by a temporary wooden trestle to allow the railhead to move on while a permanent bridge was built under the direction of Captain, later Lt. Midway between Nairobi and Lake Victoria was the great natural obstacle of the Rift Valley with its 450 m drop from the Highlands to the floor of the valley. In order to speed up construction an inclined railway was constructed down the steep sides of the rift.

In Tanganyika, the Germans started construction of the Central Line from Dar es Salaam in February 1904. This line eventually reached Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika in 1914. A branch line was built from Tabora to Mwanza on the southern shore of Lake Victoria, being completed in 1928. A line from Tanga was commenced in 1899 reaching Mombo in 1904. The line then headed for Mount Kilmanjaro, reaching Moshi in 1911. A link line was constructed in 1924 connecting it to the Uganda railway at Voi. The railheads on Lake Victoria are connected by a steamer service, the ships having been transported to the lake in pre-fabricated sections and assembled at Kisumu.

As well as providing a vital transport link for various lakeside settlements, the service used to be a popular tourist cruise. Although there is no longer a passenger service, the following train ferries are currently in service on the Lake: Uhuru, Kahawa, Umoja, Pamba and Kabalega. The East African island of Zanzibar has a railway history predating that of the mainland. Sultan Bargash bin Said had a seven mile railway constructed from his palace at Stone Town to Chukwani in 1879.

Initially the two Pullman cars were hauled by mules but in 1881 the Sultan ordered an 0-4-0 tank locomotive from Bagnall. The railway saw service until the Sultan died in 1888 when the track and locomotive were scrapped. H into the three national railway corporations and the withdrawal of steam locos, this system was abandoned. The archive, such as it is, consists of a set of glass-fronted bookshelves in the Curator’s office. It is not open to casual wandering around by visitors but Maurice Barasa, the curator, is usually pleased to welcome people with a specific subject to research.

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