SGR will open up Kenya for regional investment
Last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched Phase 2A of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) from Nairobi to Suswa.
The launch is part of the execution of Kenya the Railways Master Plan that seeks to transform the national and regional railways network to provide efficient, safe and reliable rail transport services.
Whereas critics have christened the phase a “railway to nowhere”, the benefits that will accrue from the project cannot be overstated.
For starters, it will be an efficient railway network catering for increased demand for both passengers and cargo transport along the northern corridor, besides addressing traffic congestion within the urban and peri-urban areas.
Secondly, the railway line is set to play a huge role in the decongestion of the Port of Mombasa as the increased capacity of transport infrastructure will meet the demand at the port, resulting in the movement of high freight volumes.
The region is also set to become a competitive investment destination as SGR means higher speeds, thus reducing transit time and consequently, lower costs of production.
Additionally, better access to markets will aid the exploitation of resources in the region.
Finally, a viable railway transport solution will ensure seamless connectivity that will enhance regional integration, reduce carbon emissions, roads wear-and-tear and, therefore, less road maintenance costs.
The journey to upgrade the region’s infrastructure is unstoppable.
The President also presided over the ground-breaking ceremony of the Sh6.9 billion Naivasha Inland Container Depot (ICD). This will address the congestion at Mlolongo and the Embakasi ICD.
Besides revolutionising transport in Rift Valley and stimulating tourism, SGR will lead to the creation of a Special Economic Zone.
Already, a number of East African Community member states have shown interest in investing in the dry port.
The introduction of passenger trains from Nairobi to Suswa is a timely move that targets tourists and locals travelling to and from Western and Nyanza regions as well as and lower parts of Rift Valley.
The operator has also introduced a commuter service operating from Ngong to the Nairobi South station via Ongata Rongai.
This train will offer great convenience to passengers travelling to and from Mombasa, who would prefer to go straight to Ongata Rongai and Ngong, without passing through the city centre.
It will also come in handy for residents of Ngong, Rongai who work in Machakos, industrial area and the CBD, who would prefer to use the commuter service.
To ensure a seamless connection, four train schedules have been introduced. The first train departs Ngong at 5.40am and arrives at the Nairobi South terminus at 6.19am, with a stop-over in Ongata Rongai at 5.53am. Commuters then connect the MGR train from Nairobi South terminus at 6.35am, arriving at the CBD at 7.15am.
The second train departs Ngong midday, arriving at Nairobi South terminus at 12.40pm Train three departs Ngong at 4.30pm and arrives at Nairobi South terminus at 16.55pm to connect the MGR train from the CBD.
The fourth departs Ngong at 7.15pm, arriving at Nairobi South terminus at 7.35pm and connects passengers from the Mombasa-Nairobi train to Ngong via Ongata Rongai at 8.30pm.
Yet, the concerns raised by critics and residents of the four towns through which the train passes cannot be wished away.
For the project to succeed, the government still needs to regularly engage communities and expedite the completion of paved roads linking the towns to the train stations.
While critics have opined that the SGR fares are higher than those charged by matatu, a comparison shows the reverse is true.
SGR fares are lower. Never mind that the SGR saves commuters from the inconvenience of traffic jams. —The writer is a communications adviser for Madaraka Express