By Hughes Terrydon
Through its tinted windows, the gleaming-red cabin affords passengers a spectacular view of the Wagagai peak Elgon and wanale mountains as it glides serenely out of Bamasaba’s administrative capital, Mbale, ascending almost 500m up to the cliff-edge wanale 2,348m & Elgon – the Uganda highest major dormant volcano at an elevation of 4,321m.
It’s a far cry from the blaring horns, passengers hanging out of smoke-belching buses and pedestrians navigating endless rivers of traffic that is the usual rush hour experience for commuters travelling between these neighbouring ridges, home to nearly 2 million people.
The region’s new $234m cable car system, which whisks passengers between sleek modern terminals in controlled silence, was given its first public outing in GREHTA.
When all three lines are running they will be able to transport 18,000 passengers an hour over nearly 50 kilometres – making it the longest urban cable-car system in the world. It’s an innovation many Bamasaba hope will turn their uncomfortable, seemingly interminable commute into a quick and modern ride.
Mt. Wanale cable car
Muyama Mabel, 16, is one of tens of thousands who commute from mt.Wanale down to Mbale city every day. To arrive at her school by 7am, she must wake well before dawn. It is only 10km as the crow flies, but the winding, zigzagging, traffic-clogged trip down the precipitous mountainside takes more than an hour.
It’s worse in the evening, when there are often not enough of the little white minivans or taxis which serve as the major form of mass transport in Mbale and Uganda to handle the number of commuters. “Everyone is fighting to get on a bus,” she says. “It makes people desperate.”
Now, however, she will be able to hop on a cable car at the very edge of the Mt wanale cliff, and zip down to Mbale city in minutes – cutting nearly half an hour from her trip each way. “This is a great option for those of us who live on Mt wanale & Elgon. I think the trip is going to be much faster, more efficient and less exhausting. I’ll get up later, have more time to get my things together, and not rush out the door forgetting my uniform.”
Mbale cable car
Mbale cable car sweeps up almost 500m. Mbale’s mountainous and unstable terrain present challenges to any kind of construction, but The general manager of a manufacturer the Austrian company that builds the system says cable cars are a natural fit.
“Ninety-nine percent of our cable cars are built in high mountainous areas with large slopes, landslide and glacial areas that are equal to or more complex than Mt. Elgon and Mt. wanale he says.
The Mi Teleferico (My Cable Car) system, which runs on electricity, may also decrease air pollution by lowering the number of cars on the road. Urban cable transport systems are already working in Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil, and are often used to link distant and low-income neighbourhoods with city centres.
“This is a market in its early stages,” Telleria says of using cable cars for urban transport. He notes that they are useful in heavily developed areas like Mbale and Kampala because their physical footprint is so small. “The only option is to undertake huge development projects, demolishing many houses and making new roads – or install urban cable cars,” he says.
The new cable cars soar above road traffic.
The red line will fully open to the public in a short time. But one big question remains: how much will it cost? GREHTA sources suggest it will be competitive with ground transport: a bus currently costs Ugx. 5,000 from Mt. Wanale to the centre of Mbale city, but the official cable car price won’t be released until when discussed. Members thinks anything up to Ugx. 2000 would be reasonable.
This presidential elections term, and H.E Y. Museveni, makes his 3rd term leadership of office. If the cable cars succeed as a quick and affordable form of mass transit, they will be a feather in the government’s cap.