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Kenya: new train line struggles with familiar problems

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi
Posted on Thursday, 17 October 2019 10:16

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta flags off the train linking Nairobi and Naivasha at the Nairobi Terminus operating the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line constructed by the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) and financed by Chinese government in the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the second phase of the country’s new railway line on October 16th, amidst lingering questions of the entire project’s cost, viability and economic impact.

The new 120.491km stretch connects the Mombasa-Nairobi line, launched in May 2017, with Suswa. Dubbed “Phase 2A”, the line cost Shs. 150billion to build and was funded by China, which withheld funding for the rest of the line earlier this year.

  • The line was meant to be operational by mid this year but its completion was delayed by land compensation issues.
  • Kenya Railways announced a passenger train schedule on the new line, with cargo hauling meant to begin in two months. Similar to the Mombasa-Nairobi line, the new line’s stations are located in remote areas away from urban centres, meaning that passengers have to use other means to get there first.

Kenyatta also launched two other mega-projects, whose construction is meant to complement the new railway line.

  • The first, the 18.586kms JKIA-Expressway, which is scheduled for completion by 2022, is meant to allow road users to avoid the capital city’s traffic jams, albeit at a cost in the form of tolls. A key problem for passenger traffic to the new railway line has been that it does not actually terminate in the capital city, but in Syokimau, a town 19.9kms south of Nairobi.
  • The second, the Naivasha Inland Container Depot, is meant to attract cargo traffic to the lakeside town and is part of larger plans to turn it into a logistics hub within a special economic zone that will include dry ports for Uganda and South Sudan.

Meanwhile, Kenya’s plans to revamp its old railway line and connect it to the new line have hit a snag.

The contractor’s quotation is triple the government’s original estimate of Shs. 21billion to build a link between the two lines and revamp the old line, the Business Daily reported.

  • The new and old railway lines are 43kms apart and without a link line, will require cargo to be trucked over the distance.

Beyond the question on the costs of the entire project, there have been frequent protests in the port city of Mombasa by truckers. In an effort to make the SGR profitable, the government issued a short-lived directive that all cargo headed inward be hauled by the SGR.

  • While the directive was rescinded, truckers have protested against other sinister moves at the port meant to deny them cargo traffic.
  • “There’s business for everybody at the port, and it’s wrong for anyone to claim that SGR is ferrying 100 per cent of cargo. This is not possible,” Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia told the Nation after the latest protests in early October.

Mombasa has been the hardest hit by the SGR, with a 2018 study by researchers at the University of Nairobi showing significant job losses in the road transport ecosystem, among other adverse effects.

  • The lead researcher, Dr. Ken Ogolla, told a press briefing that the city had reached “an economic decay point.”

Bottom Line: Kenyatta’s legacy projects will need to be better integrated into the existing national logistics networks for the benefits to be felt.

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