As Kenya marks six years since the launch of the passenger services on the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), one of the key successes is the massive transfer of skills to Kenyans that has been achieved through the project.
Such has been the success of Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) and the service operator, Africa Star Railways Operations Company (Afristar) in delivering on this objective that will see all operational aspects migrated from the latter to the former.
This process is on course, given that a portion of the operational mandate of the SGR service is being executed by the KRC after the transfer of functions.
These include ticketing, security, maintenance information systems, buildings and infrastructure repairs. Afristar still maintains responsibility for the maintenance of the locomotive engines and the coaches.
Just as the deployment of 40 per cent local content was a key clause in the pact between KRC and the SGR operator, skills transfer is a major component of the operations and maintenance contract between the two.
This is to ensure that Kenyans have the requisite capacity to operate and maintain the service even after their Chinese counterparts leave, as spelt out under the agreement. At the end of May this year, Afristar had 643 Kenyan employees. This is besides the 1,158 who have completed training under the technology transfer training. China Road and Bridge Corporation has so far sent 98 Kenyans to China for railway-related training at Beijing Jiaotong University.
Subsequently, the beneficiaries under this programme have effectively become hands-on professionals in handling modern railway operations.
This programme has been running consistently since the SGR service was launched in 2017.
At the height of Covid-19, 110 Kenyans (65 at Beijing Jiaotong University and 45 at Southwest Jiaotong University) completed their training courses under the Railway Operations Management Seminar for developing countries conducted online.
Afristar’s on-the-job training programme has been complemented by study tours to China.
Based on the different training programs offered in China, staff members have been exposed to railway management disciplines.
As the race towards the full localisation of SGR services intensifies, so has the number of Kenyans in leadership positions within Afristar. Currently, Kenyans are engaged in managerial positions within SGR operations.
The high level of preparedness for a 100 per cent local takeover of operations has been achieved through technical skills transfer in 123 areas of specialisation in railway management.
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KRC has partnered with the operator and technical institutions in China to train Kenyan students in railway management and engineering. Upon completion of their degrees, they are employed by the corporation.
KRC is also engaging higher learning institutions and technical colleges to consider partnering with foreign universities to introduce courses that ensure Kenya has a pool of competent personnel to run the SGR beyond the contract with China.
Following concerns about gender disparities in training and employment opportunities, the SGR service now has seven women locomotive drivers out of one ninety. The Sino-Kenya ties, which have been 60 years in the making, have eased the skills transfer programme.
China has also emerged as the sole financier of Kenya’s SGR infrastructure, to the tune of Sh656.1 billion, which it has so far spent on the Mombasa–Nairobi and Nairobi-Naivasha lines.
The author offers communication advisory services in the transport and logistics sector