Reviving rail line to Kisumu needs more than new tracks

The abandoned railway line to Kisumu. (Collins Oduor, Standard)

It will cost Kenya Railways hundreds of millions of shillings to revive the old Nakuru-Kisumu railway line after several years of neglect.

Built by the British colony in the 1900s, the once resilient single line track is now overgrown by vegetation and the remnant of its monumental stations battered by neglect stand deserted.

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia has said the government will connect the SGR that will terminate at Naivasha to the old Kisumu rail line.

The old railway line was abandoned two decades ago after the Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) stopped operating both passenger and cargo trains.

But stakeholders say the Kenya Railways will have to spend huge resources in bringing the line back to use.

“The old railway line is in pathetic condition and it will take time to repair it,” says Timothy Okatch, a structural engineer.

The non-usage of the line has subjected it to vandalism. The Kisumu Railways Station doesn’t look like one, with offices leased to private business people. One part of the station has been turned into a night club.

The tracks have in several sections been vandalised to be sold as scrap metal. Most of the wooden sleepers have rotten away.

In some areas, the line has been covered by soil.

Uphill task

Stations in Kibigori, Fort Ternan, Koru, Kibos and the main station in Kisumu were leased to businessmen, who mostly turned them into restaurants.

Along its entire length, residents have encroached on the rail reserve and some have put up permanent structures and homes. Recouping the 30-metre clearance on both sides will be one of the uphill task for KRC.

We visited the Kibos Inland Container Depot where the main office has been turned into a kiosk.

A railway network at the depot is perhaps the only sign that this was once an important facility. It was from this depot that containers were sorted, cleared and hauled to the port on the lake.

The system has been so idle that the Kisumu County Government had proposed turning the old station near the port into a museum.

Although officials of Kenya Railways had earlier this year said there were plans to revive the line to give impetus to the proposed SGR, the announcement by Macharia that the government would link the SGR to the Naivasha-Malaba metre gauge railway is now a game-changer for the line to Kisumu.

On Friday, Macharia told the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation that the ministry would model Naivasha as a trans-shipment centre where cargo from Mombasa via the SGR will be loaded onto MGR locomotives to Malaba for further shipment to Kampala.

“What we have prioritised is making sure that when goods get to Naivasha, they are not marooned. What is important is to make sure we have connectivity by having a trans-shipment point in Naivasha from SGR to MGR,” Macharia said.

On January 18, during the launch of the Sh15 billion Lake Victoria cleanup and revival programme, an official of KRC said the government would revive the lunatic line to give impetus to SGR.

Meanwhile, five counties on the proposed Naivasha-Kisumu SGR route may have to wait longer to benefit from improved trade and tourism opportunities the extension promised.

With railway stations planned in Narok, Bomet, Kericho and Kisumu counties, trade was expected to rise and ‘hidden’ tourist attractions in the regions boosted once the project was completed, according to a Kenya Railways document.

Access to markets

The Sh350 billion Naivasha-Kisumu SGR project (Phase 2B) was in line with the counties’ integrated development plans to enhance access to markets at a lower cost for the agriculture-based economies.

Narok was angling to be one of the biggest beneficiaries since the SGR is the first railway track to pass through the county.

Narok, a cereal breadbasket, is also home to the Masai Mara National Reserve.

Convenient and cheaper transport from Nairobi and Kisumu to the reserve famous for the wildebeest migration could see more visitors to the park.

Two sub-stations were planned for Narok and Mulot towns, making access to the reserve easier by rail and road.

Bomet County would have better transportation for tea and processed milk products. It would have intermediate stations in Mulot and Kabason townships.

Crossing stations were planned in Bomet West, Sotik and Ikonge in Nyamira County.

“These stations are designed to enhance movement of people and goods linking them to the nearest town, Kisumu, and Nairobi cities,” says the plan document.

The railway was also expected to give tourism sites, including the Konoin caves and Itare and Chepkulo waterfalls, a new lease of life.

The Mau Forest complex, which has a great tourism potential, is also located along the proposed line.

In Kericho, there were to be stations at Kipkelion, Londiani and Fort Tenan. The county is home to tea, wheat and pyrethrum.