Kenya is gearing up for a new era in railway transport with the impending commissioning of a standard-gauge railway (SGR) line on June 1.
The East African nation has depended on a dilapidated 1-m-gauge railway system for more than a century, but that is about to change, following the completion of the $3.8-billion 472 km SGR line from the coastal city of Mombasa to Nairobi, the capital city.
“The SGR line is the largest infrastructure project in post- independence Kenya. It’s commissioning will mean low freight transport costs, which is a good development for the economies of the region,” Kenya Railways MD Atanas Maina tells Engineering News.
The line, constructed by China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), has the potential to reduce transport costs by as much as 35%. Australia-based construction company John Holland, a subsidiary of CCCC, has been contracted to operate the SGR line.
“The SGR line will assist in lowering the logistics costs associated with freight storage and delivery, which will lead to low freight transport costs for the business community,” says Maina.
The completion of the Mombasa–Nairobi line, which forms the first phase of a broader railway investment programme, is testament to Kenya’s determination to become East Africa’s transport hub.
Apart from the new line, Kenya intends to construct a 3 500 km SGR network under the Railways Master Plan that will connect the country to Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
Maina says the Mombasa–Nairobi line is critical for the development of Kenya because it will provide a more efficient mode of transport for freight in the northern corridor, the main transport route for cargo destined for not only Kenya but also Uganda, Rwanda and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Trains will travel at 80 km/h, which will significantly reduce transit times for cargo. The line has a haulage capacity of up to 4 000 t a trip. Struggling
Currently, cargo transport along the northern corridor, which competes with Tanzania’s central corridor, is mainly by road, at 97%. Rift Valley Railways, the operator of the 1-m-gauge line between Kenya and Uganda, has been struggling to operate profitably.
“The SGR line will play a vital role in decongesting the Port of Mombasa, thus enable it to increase cargo throughput to the inland,” says Maina.
The commissioning of the line comes at a time when cargo traffic at the Mombasa port is increasing, having gone up by 2.4% from 26.7-million tons in 2015 to 27.3-million tons in 2016.
The SGR line is designed to carry 22-million tons of cargo a year, equivalent to 40% of the Mombasa port’s throughput.
In anticipation of increased container throughput at the port, the Kenya government is modernising and expanding the inland container depot (ICD), in Nairobi.
When completed, by August, the ICD will have five additional SGR lines serviced by six gantry cranes for offloading and loading containers, a staking yard for at least 5 000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) and a yearly throughput of 405 000 TEUs. Currently, the depot has a yearly throughput of 180 000 TEUs.
The second phase of the SGR project will see the line being extended from Nairobi to Naivasha, a distance of 120 km, at a cost of $1.5-billion, funded by a loan from the Chinese government.
Kenya has also signed construction agreements with CCCC covering Phase 2B, from Naivasha to Kisumu, and Phase 2C, from Kisumu to Malaba, on the Uganda border.