New railway line expected to boost business and tourism in four counties

Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) workers go about their duty along Mombasa-Nairobi at Mutito Andei, Makueni county in a picture taken November 22,2015.

NAIROBI, KENYA: Five counties on the Naivasha-Kisumu standard gauge railway route will benefit from improved trade and tourism opportunities once the project is completed, according to a Kenya Railways working document.

With railway stations planned in Narok, Bomet, Kericho, and Kisumu counties, trade is expected to rise and ‘hidden’ tourist attractions in the regions boosted.

The Sh380 billion SGR project (Phase 2B) is in line with the counties’ integrated development plans to enhance access to markets at a lower cost for the agriculture-based economies.

Narok will be one of the biggest beneficiaries since the SGR is the first railway track to pass through the county. Narok is home to the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Convenient and cheaper transport from Nairobi and Kisumu to the reserve famous for the Great Migration of the wildebeest could see more visitors to the park. Two sub-stations are planned in Narok and Mulot towns, making access to the reserve easier by rail and road.

Wheat is the main cash crop in the county that also grows maize and potatoes and the working document predicts that the stations will “transform market access to key towns, increase business activity and investment, increase revenue generation, and improve the overall quality of life for the people of Narok County”, says the document titled Phase 2b Naivasha-Kisumu SGR and Kisumu Port.

In SGR, Bomet County will have better transportation for tea and processed milk products. It will have intermediate stations in Mulot and Kabason townships. Crossing stations are planned in Bomet West, Sotik, and Ikonge.

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

The railway is 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 new line.

The complex, which stretches from Narok to Kericho, is home to the rare yellow-backed duiker antelope, the golden cat, the leopard, the African elephant, giant forest hog, Columbus monkey, potto, Sotik bush baby, and the greater Galago in the Trans Mara and South Western Mau conservancies.

It is also home to indigenous mosaic cedar and podocarpus forests with scattered grassy meadows in natural glades.

In Kericho, there will be intermediate stations at Kipkelion, Londiani, and Fort Tenan. The county, through which the Mau Summit-Kericho-Kisumu Northern Corridor road passes to join Kenya’s agriculturally rich region with the international markets, is home to tea, wheat, and pyrethrum.

Kisumu County is banking on the project to position itself as a major hub in the East African Community’s economy. It is expected to catapult socio-economic development in the mining, tourism, and manufacturing industries and also revive maritime trade.

“The proposed construction of the Naivasha–Kisumu SGR and Kisumu port are in line with the county’s hopes that the railway and port operations will be revived as espoused in the Kenya Vision 2030. The project will improve Kisumu city’s standing in East Africa as a centre for business, thereby improving the lives of the overall population,” says the document.

The SGR will terminate at the new Kisumu Port in Usare, Kisumu West. The new port is part of the project and will be built at a cost of Sh14 billion by China Road and Bridge Corporation. The project implementers expect a number of challenges, according to the working document.

One of the major challenges is displacement of people residing and exploiting resources along the proposed path. Cultural values attached to graveyards, churches, mosques, as well as employment opportunities in the project may also be sources of conflict.

“These cultural and employment opportunity considerations will be fully addressed and integrated into the project implementation and operations,” the document proposes.