Uhuru, Raila dilemma over Kisumu amid expectations

Armed police officers guard the Nairobi -Naivasha Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) that is under contraction Twala area in Kijiado North at the weekend. the project is almost 90 percent and will be in operational in a few months to duration PHOTO/PETERSON GITHAIGA
Cornered by technocrats’ advice against immediate upgrade of the Nakuru-Kisumu old railway, the pair has gone mute as they mull over options to save face.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga are set to announce their new plan for Western Kenya, following weeks of uncertainty, flip flopping and confusion with regard to the railway extension deal.

This week, Raila and Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia are expected to communicate succinctly government plans for Western region -- including the railway extension, establishment of special economic zone in Kisumu and rehabilitation of Kisumu port into a modern and viable harbour.

The two are stuck with three odd options for the 217km Lunatic Express line, none of which guarantees relief in the near future and before Kenyatta exits the scene as Kenya’s fourth president.

This week, Macharia cold-delivered the third option, that priority will be placed on upgrading the Naivasha-Malaba metre gauge railway and thereafter do a brand new Nakuru-Kisumu Standard Gauge Railway.

The funding options for this remains hazy, as well as its timing, given it will be a new regime in place, which may be oblivious to handshakes.

“The condition of that section is so bad, that it may be more prudent to do a new line altogether or wait for the construction of SGR Phase 2B... it is currently non-operational and in economic terms, it’s better to wait for the SGR 2B,” Macharia told the Sunday Standard yesterday.

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In the first option, which Uhuru and Raila preferred, the rail track was upgraded to accommodate heavier trains. The tricky part of this was that the old rail used different rail track sizes with the most of it 135km between Londiani and Kisumu being 50 lbs (about 22kg) rail.

The section between Nakuru and Mau Summit has 80 lbs (36kg) rail while from Mau Summit to Londiani is 60 lbs (27kg) rail. The track was thus to be upgraded by laying 80 lbs (36kg) sleepers throughout the entire length of the rail, which amounted to a new construction.

The technocrats, who usually matter a lot in such technical discussions, said as much; that it was as good as redoing it altogether.

Apart from construction, the option entailed buying of six locomotives and refurbishment of 100 wagons. This was to cost Sh18.2 billion and run for 30 months.

Spot improvements

“The Sh18 billion is an estimate and would be difficult to get a private sector to invest when non-operational,” Macharia said.

In the second option, the government wanted to do spot improvements with no track upgrades. These would have entailed engineering works on existing line, installation of signaling, communication and train control systems, rehabilitation of station buildings and maintenance depots.

It also involved procurement of six locomotives and refurbishment of 100 wagons. The total cost of the second option stood at Sh7.3 billion and was to run for 18 months.

The 217km route has 17 stations and once restored into operation was to have a combined capacity of 10 freight trains a day with six trains between Nakuru and Kisumu and four trains leaving Kisumu for Nakuru every day. The trailing load for each train was to be 800 tonnes.

“Therefore, the line has a daily haulage capacity of 4,800 tonnes (1.752 million tonnes per year),” a government planning document obtained by the Sunday Standard states.

According to the plans, the estimated freight tariffs were to be Sh2,200 per ton compared to Sh3,645 to Sh4,375 per ton charged by road transporters.

The estimated annual revenues at full capacity was to be Sh3.8 billion.

Other features

The plans also encompassed ongoing rehabilitation of Kisumu port, including upgrade of infrastructure around the port among them nautical improvements, dredging to achieve depth of minus 1.5 metres along southern berths and three metres along northern berths.

The upgrade was to include removal of wrecks, quay wall improvements, upgrade of concrete works on the quay wall, installation of bollards at 15m spacing, installation of rubber tire fenders at 3-5m spacing, paving of internal roads and upgrade of the fencing and perimeter lighting.

Other features include laying base for berth equipment including 15-ton mobile cranes, forklift trucks and tractor trailers, installation of a refrigerated warehouse, maintenance of slipways and establishment of a special economic zone to catalyse economic activity in the region.

“After completion of MPR upgrade to Malaba,” Macharia said when asked about the anticipated start of SGR 2B to Kisumu.

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Nakuru-KisumuPresident Uhuru KenyattaRaila OdingaKisumu RailwayJames Macharia