Madaraka Express service thrives amid Covid-19

Monday, July 6th, 2020 00:00 |
A section of Standard Gauge Railway under construction. Some affected land owners are yet to be compensated. PD/FILE

Virginia Munyao 

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought in its wake aftershocks that are being felt across the transport sector.

The pressure on operators has shifted from moving citizens to keeping a core transportation system operational with a skeleton workforce to ensure freight and key essential workers continue to move. 

A March 2020 report by Deloitte titled ‘Understanding Covid-19’s impact on the transportation sector’ says countries, especially road-connected ones, are adopting measures to ensure that trade continues and goods reach their destination, minimising the impact on all supply chains.

The EU, for example, recommends its member states to facilitate use of passenger aircraft for cargo-only operations and to temporarily remove, or apply flexibly, night curfews or slot restrictions at airports for essential air cargo operations.

Closer home, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Regional Transport Transit Facilitation Cell has drafted short-term action plans, ensuring that food and basic items reach those most in need.

Taking cognisance of the need to ensure uninterrupted operations during the cessation of movement embargo, Africa Star Railway Operation Company (Afristar), the operator of the Standard Gauge Railway, has continued to operate the SGR freight services, buoyed by the increased inflow of Covid-19 supplies.

This has been achieved through deployment of transport, locomotive, rolling stock, track and signaling staff to work during the pandemic period.

By June 30, 2020, the company had transported over 196,000 TEUs, including 4633 TEUs of dangerous goods, 4224 TEUs of grain and 86 TEUs of essential Covid-19 prevention materials such as disinfectants, ethyl and alcohol.

It is noteworthy that in June, a total of 422 freight trains were operated between Mombasa and Nairobi, with an average of 14 freight trains a day, transporting 34,688 TEUs, a total of 382,227 tons.

This is an increase of 13.39 per cent compared to June 2019. In response to government requirements on SGR Phase 2A, Afristar has operated 52 freight trains to the Naivasha ICD, transporting 2494 TEUs destined for Uganda and other East African countries. This has played a role in mitigating the spread of Covid-19 through road transport. 

Compared to road transport, Madaraka Express is more environmentally friendly, as fuel consumption is lower.

It is also possible to transport huge shipments at once over long distances, at relatively low costs.

In addition, Madaraka Express freight transport is well-organised with fixed timetables, which give accurate rail freight tariffs.

It is also not subject to delays, and is the safest way of transporting goods. Moreover, rail transport can lower greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent. 

Madaraka Express freight service particularly comes in handy when looking for high speed delivery over long distances, shipping large quantities in bulk, or shipping inland from a port.

Raw materials such as coal and iron ore are also best transported by Madaraka Express freight service.

But the singular biggest advantage of the Madaraka Express freight service is that once the trains are loaded at the port, the next destination is Nairobi ICD or the newly-opened Naivasha ICD. There is minimal human contact and interaction during movement of goods.

That notwithstanding, the role of truckers in economic development cannot be gainsaid.

Truck drivers haul food, gas, raw materials, and finished goods everywhere in the country and to neighbouring countries.

Indeed the Transport Cabinet Secretary has admitted that the tonnage of goods evacuated from the port of Mombasa by road is traditionally higher than the cargo evacuated by SGR.

It is, therefore, imperative that the trucking industry deploys robust systems to increase efficiency and safety for drivers.

But for greater efficiency, there is need for complementarity between Madaraka Express and the trucking industry.

Notably, the latter can leverage last mile transportation, the primary client-facing part of the supply chain, by re-engineering their business to take advantage of the integrated transport system spearheaded by the SGR. —The writer is a Communications Advisor, Afristar

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