Mombasa island’s transport infrastructure will never be the same again after completion of the Standard Gauge Railway in June. The railway will solve the city’s crazy traffic and congestion at Likoni Ferry, the only crossing into South Coast.
The Government reckons that the completion of the SGR and a host of other link roads in the South Coast, will be a gamechanger.
The Jubilee flagship project will be launched on June 1, 18 months ahead of schedule. The network connects Kenya’s largest sea port with the hinterland, a feat first achieved more than 100 years ago. The project cost just over Sh380 billion.
Releasing details of the big launch, Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said recently: “Our approach is to have an integrated transport system. We can’t do one aspect of it and leave out the rest. The sea ports, the airport and the railway must all be linked to ease accessibility.”
He says the completion of the railway project will cut movement of goods from the port by road by an estimated 40 per cent.
“We will move 22 million tonnes of cargo. Up from around 2 million tonnes every year,” Macharia says.
Initially, it was thought that once the railway was completed, it would drastically affect the long distance trucking business, a belief the transport minister dismisses.
“There will be business for everyone. New roads are opening up in areas previously unreachable. This will provide new opportunities for those in the transport business,” he says.
Although ahead of schedule, the government says its completion was not smooth sailing. From the onset, it faced integrity issues with critics saying it had been grossly overpriced and that Kenya did not need it.
“The return on investment has already been felt. There are industries that have come up as a result of the project...jobs have been created as well,” the minister says.
Of note too has been the constant comparison between Kenya’s SGR and Ethiopia’s modern electric train version that was put up at a fraction of what the Kenyan project cost.
“Ethiopia’s is a class two project. The SGR is a class one project which means ours carries more load,” he says.
“In four years, we will upgrade ours into an electronic traction train when we will have a more reliable power supply throughout the whole country.”
The SGR cuts through some of the most precious wildlife habitats in the country.
A large section of it cuts through Tsavo National Park. More than four kilometres of it cut across the Nairobi National Park. As a result, environmentalists continue to protest the railway’s route.
They say it will lead to environmental degradation and marked reduction in the wildlife population. Inadvertently affecting tourism which is one of Kenya’s top foreign exchange earners.
“All environmental issues are being addressed. We continue to engage the Kenya Wildlife Service on these matters,” says Macharia.
The government says the railway is part of a bigger plan to link the country’s rail transport system, the road network and the sea ports into one seamless transport corridor.
“We have expanded the port by building a second terminal which will feed the SGR. Containers will be coming of ships and immediately loaded onto train wagons for transportation,” Macharia says.
With the port’s expansion, Kenya Ports Authority says it has now doubled the amount of containers it can handle every year.
“We can now handle more than 1.6 million containers up from about 800,000,” Catherine Mturi-Wairi the KPA managing director said.
When the project is fully completed and automated, the port will be able to move 2.1 million containers annually at a total cost of Sh27 billion.
As the SGR project battled credibility and cost issues, other infrastructural projects around it too faced challenges of their own. Access into Mombasa from Nairobi by road has for many years been problematic.
The Mombasa Access Road that comprises of the road to the airport to Changamwe through Port Reitz cut straight through commercial.
This meant that for the road project to be a success, a lot of people and businesses had to be moved which resulted in protracted back and forth between the government, the National Lands Commission and the land owners.
“Doing projects in cities is a challenging endeavour because almost always this means privately owned property needs to be bought by the government.
“Compensation is always hard because it’s a long process. Genuine owners need to be identified,” Macharia says.
To date though, he says the government has paid out Sh1.7 billion in compensation claims.
“A further Sh800 million will be paid out before the project is completed in June.” The total cost of the roads is Sh6 billion.
“This investment will open up the entry and exit of Mombasa.”
But the infrastructure development projects within Mombasa are not only about exit and entry.
“Some of these projects are but opening up the region for business,” Macharia says.
The Dongo Kundu, Miritini and Mwache road will serve as a transport corridor for traffic destined to and from Tanzania and will ease traffic pressure on the Likoni Ferry crossing.