Railway transport sector back on track after decades of neglect
The recent refurbishment of sections of the Metre Gauge Railway (MGR) line is expected to play a significant function in sustaining businesses in the counties it serve.
Also, it will create the requisite cargo volumes to improve the performance of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) and cement its viability.
The exercise has excited the business and agricultural fraternities along these corridors that had hitherto to rely on expensive road transport to move their products to markets.
The Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) is currently undertaking an ambitious plan for rehabilitation and expansion to encourage economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic.
Like many countries around the world, Kenya is bearing the brunt of Covid-19. This forced KRC to put in place temporary arrangements while continuing with its revitalization programme as much as possible.
The corporation has been able to revive a large section of the MGR network within a span of fewer than six months.
The success witnessed can be attributed to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s keen interest in seeing to it that the cost of production is brought down drastically, in order to achieve the pillars of his Big Four Agenda legacy.
The rehabilitation involves the revitalisation of the previously abandoned and dilapidated railway network across the country.
This rehabilitation will herald the re-establishment of the missing link in the business and agriculture supply chain that faced a myriad of problems when the railway services collapsed in the eighties and the subsequent folding up of the Rift Valley Railways concession six years ago.
The programme is being undertaken with resources that have been generated within the organisation and the costs have been kept at a bare minimum, with the utilisation of the National Youth Service (NYS) and other youth who have been recruited among communities residing within the railway corridor.
A milestone is the recently refurbished 177km Nairobi-Nanyuki railway line, which is beginning to bear fruit, with the return of freight trains to the line, which last saw regular services in the 1990s.
According to KRC managing director Philip Mainga, the revival of the branch will bring immense benefits and spur economic growth in the counties within the region.
It will provide a faster, reliable and safer means of transport for high-capacity haulage of freight.
It will also have a significant positive impact on the environment, thanks to the reduction in carbon emissions and reduced wear and tear of the roads.
Completed in 1931, the Nairobi – Thika – Maragua – Sagana – Karatina – Nanyuki line serves five counties across the central part of the country.
For a region famous for tea, coffee and dairy farming, the revival of this line is expected to reduce the cost of transporting agricultural produce, stimulating the revival of industries and creating jobs, as well as reducing congestion on the busy Nanyuki – Nairobi road.
Notably, the government intends to establish Special Economic Zones in each county to encourage both agricultural and industrial activity.
The Nairobi-Nanyuki line will also revive logistics businesses that will now thrive by moving agricultural produce, dairy, and fuel supplies in central Kenya.
It is instructive that the Vivo Energy depots that serve the larger Mount Kenya region are situated in Nanyuki town.
Also, the rehabilitation of the route from Nakuru to Kisumu is ongoing. The rehabilitation of the Lake Victoria train ferry MV Uhuru has revived lake transport from Mwanza in Tanzania, to Jinja and Entebbe in Uganda and Muhoma Bay in Rwanda.
This has raised hope for the revival of trade ties between Kenya and other regional countries through the revamped Kisumu port. Besides spurring the growth of the recently revitalised Kisumu port, the Kisumu line will drive maritime trade in the Great Lakes region.
Towns like Jinja, Mwanza and Bukoba will benefit immensely from cross border commercial activities.
Another project lined up is the construction of a new MGR line that will link the Naivasha to the existing Longonot railway station. Upon completion, the 24.3km line will provide a seamless connection between the SGR and the MGR line to enable efficient transportation of goods via the railway line from Mombasa to Malaba and/or Kisumu.
The project is part of the larger rehabilitation of the Longonot-Malaba and the Nakuru-Kisumu lines. The interface between the SGR and the MGR, together with the rehabilitation of the Naivasha to Malaba line, will speed up regional integration.
The commercial benefits to be realised due to the development are enormous.
Not to be left behind is the Nairobi Commuter Rehabilitation Project, with major infrastructure changes being undertaken to integrate and expand its different components with the aim of modernising and upgrading the existing infrastructure.
The project comprises the revival and rehabilitation of the following lines: The 75km Nairobi to Konza City line that will increase traffic to the metropolis and encourage investment; the 26km Madaraka to Ruiru line; the 31km Nairobi to Kikuyu line and the 7.2km Nairobi to Embakasi village.
The Nairobi Rail project is expected to improve passenger comfort, reduce the transit time, and increase operation safety of the MGR.
The Nairobi Commuter Rail has been buoyed by the recent acquisition of 11 Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) from SFM of Spain at a cost of Sh1.1 billion.
This deal is significant to KRC and the country as a whole. The entry of the DMUs heralds a new chapter in the railway transport sector not just in Nairobi, where it will more than triple the extant commuter rail transport capacity but eventually in the rest of the country as a whole, given the MGR’s wide footprint.
Ultimately, the ability of the management to work in tandem and the realisation by the board of the huge task ahead has enabled KR to deliver on set targets in record time.
The author is a commentator on Railway Transport Infrastructure and Development.