When Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Kenya in 1909, he boarded the Uganda Railway at Mombasa. His descriptions of the wildlife he saw from the train are still among the most colorful accounts of East African wildlife ever written and can be found in his book African Game Trails. The narrow gauge Uganda Railway, extending from the port of Mombasa to Kisumu on Lake Victoria’s shore, was built from 1896 to 1901 in an effort to solidify England’s colonial claim on Uganda. Contemporary press reports were critical of the project, often labeling it The Lunatic Line. The Lunatic Express became a more familiar term with the 1971 publication of Charles Miller’s book, The Lunatic Express: An Entertainment in Imperialism.
In recent years, the condition of the tracks has deteriorated. While the occasional derailments have been problematic, the primary effect of the poor condition of the railway has been the additional length of time of any rail journeys. Rehabilitation started last year, with the rebuilding of the worst 46 miles of track. On July 16, the current operator of the railroad – Rift Valley Railways – commissioned new equipment to speed up the repair of the tracks. Now that real progress has been made and will continue, I dream of the day when we can board the Rift Valley Railways car in Mombasa and follow Roosevelt’s path on the train he called “A railroad through the Pleistocene.”