The site of dilapidated houses, the lines on the gigantic bridge and the constantly looted equipment on the extensive Gulu route seen mostly during the dry spell after the covering bush has been burnt away, the inland port of Pakwach slowly obliterates in memory as west Nile regions railway station.
For those that lived in the era of a thriving train service in the country with the memories of the bulk of goods from Soroti, Tororo, Butiaba, Gulu and other towns as far as Malaba on the Kenyan border, the current state of affairs represents a drastic negative turn.
It’s only fair to note as well that the bulk of goods offloaded at the inland port did not only remain in west Nile but neighboring countries like democratic republic of Congo and Sudan benefited from these services.
The region too exported its produce; Cotton, Tobacco and on rather a smaller scale Sesame found its way to the rest of the world through the rail port of Pakwach.
For the local residents, the boom in economic activity led to employment opportunities and to them poverty was more a story being told about other places.
"The community enjoyed and people used not to cry of poverty, there was high purchasing power and there was intermarriage among the many tribes that in itself was a binding factor" Mr Godfrey Oryek, the current estate assistant at Pakwach railway station recalls.
Mr Oryek still holds fond memories of the period of bloom as early as 1960’s when the then President Dr Apollo Milton Obote commissioned the Pakwach bridge line.
Fast forward to the turn of the new decade, the generation of the new millennium has been reduced to the sight of the first disappearing infrastructure, the hopes of the railway revival far in the horizon and with land encroachment reported to be high, the slim hopes of ever seeing a vibrant railway station at Pakwach could well disappear for good writes Geofrey Achora.
The beginning of collapse
Mr Michael Okumu, a former security employee of Uganda railways at Gulu station says the busy activities started dwindling in the early 1990’s and a total collapse in 1997 due to the insurgency meted by the Lord’s resistance Army (LRA).
Okumu who worked with the company for seven years beginning from 1983 says the insurgency dealt a huge blow to loads of people with many from Acholi opting to relocate to the now popular ‘Acholi Empire’ in Wenglai A village.
However as the attempts to restore peace in the troubled North continued, the government kept on changing its priorities in transport Infrastructure development.
“For me I entirely blame the government because with the restoration of peace, it was important for them to have the railway as part of the means of improving livelihood of the community but they never considered that” Mr Oryek notes.
He speculates that the government laxity to restore the railway operations must have been prompted by the tarmacking of the Pakwach - Karuma road.
Properties under threat of vandalism and theft.
The biggest current challenge the government of Uganda is likely to face in order to revive the Pakwach railway station is how to deal with threat of land encroachment by the community.
The station was allocated forty six acres of land to host its activities and provide room for future expansion but almost half of it, is settled by community and used for agriculture, officials have said.
"The occupants are mainly on the space allocated for the retired and deceased officers with the claim that they have nowhere to go and as such evicting them without court order is challenging " Mr Oryek says.
He says all the mark stones have been removed as another battle rages on between other institutions like schools that have established football pitches on the land without the authorisation of the station.
Pakwach town council has also been drawn in the encroachment row with their plans to establish a Lorry parking yard on a piece of land the railway company claims ownership of.
The massive theft of rail equipment is another setback towards any hopes of revival; rails are sold by unscrupulous people to scrap dealers, Areas in Nwoya district hosting the national park are major target for the thieves.
The houses have not been renovated and many have been deserted, the few staff and security people still occupying some of the houses are on a time bomb to say the least.
At the extreme east lies a huge idle store meant for goods on transit, although previously out for hire to companies and organizations, it’s all abandoned due to an unfavourable location.
The community have their say.
Many people across Pakwach share different views on the operations of the railway although largely in agreement that the same should be revived.
Mr Michael Okumu, a former employee of the corporation appeals to the government to replace the old rails with a standard gauge in order to boost tourism and trade in Pakwach due to its proximity to Democratic republic of Congo.
He says re- establishment of the railway would also ease the transport of relief and humanitarian supplies like food to the refugee settlements and other disaster areas.
Mr Godfrey Segirinya, the manager Pakwach cotton ginnery agrees with the idea of restabilising a new line due to massive destruction on the old line.
He says a lot of revenue had been lost due to the break down insisting that there is enough capacity to tap in varieties of commodities like the Atyak sugar factory in Amuru and tonnes of rice produced on large scale in Nwoya district if the railway were revamped.
However, Ms Bilania Avur 63, who saw the influx of goods in Pakwach during the hey days of the railways casts doubt on the government’s commitment to the cause.
"The government has been using the railway line revival ever since as political tool but many children haven't seen trains in their lives, this would be a great opportunity for the generation " she says.