Kenya's Vision 2030 goals could be realised before the target date if the current benefits accruing from the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) are anything to go by.
A year after its inauguration, the SGR is on the path to steering Kenya to greater heights of economic development. Nothing exemplifies this better than the fact that since July 10, 2018, SGR has been operating 14 freight trains daily between Nairobi and Mombasa.
With each train carrying up to 54 vehicles, transporting 108 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) containers per train in a single direction from Mombasa to Nairobi, this translates to 756 TEU containers a day.
In effect, the transportation capacity has increased seven times, compared to two freight trains operated every day at the beginning of the year. Still, more good news is on the way, with the projection that 28 freight trains will be operated daily at the end of the year.
The upshot is that the original design plan for the number of freight container transportation to be achieved by 2025 has already been reached. Significantly, SGR has achieved the eight-year container transportation plan within a year.
By operating 14 freight trains daily, SGR has fully utilised the advantages of Mombasa-Nairobi SGR for its large volume, safe and comfortable, punctual and fast characteristics. This has cut 700 trucks per day which were to transport heavy and empty containers between Mombasa and Nairobi.
It has effectively alleviated the tense traffic conditions on Mombasa Highway and greatly shortened the time limit for cargo transportation, which is 5 hours faster than that of highway transport. More importantly, it has increased cargo transportation efficiency and reduced maintenance frequency and cost of road infrastructure.
But above all, the clearance of the goods at the Inland Container Depot (ICD) in Nairobi has eased the pressure on centralised customs clearance in Mombasa Port and improved the efficiency of the same.
Put another way, operating 14 freight and four passenger trains a day, means there is one train at each terminus at intervals of 45 minutes. This is necessitating robust equipment and a sufficient number of highly skilled personnel with expertise in train operations, driving, maintenance, vehicle operations and cargo handling to ensure its safe and smooth operations.
For instance, for each additional two freight trains, it is necessary to increase 14 Chinese locomotive drivers and 14 Kenyan assistant drivers. When the total number of trains is eventually increased to 14, operations will run evenly during the day and night, thereby creating more employment opportunities for drivers.
This will also see the changing of employees’ work shift mode at both Nairobi and Port Reitz Stations, besides increasing the number of employees in loading and unloading, cargo inspection, vehicle inspection, and maintenance inspection of electrical equipment.
It is noteworthy that SGR has recruited 2,285 staffers from diverse professional backgrounds and conducted numerous trainings on theoretical knowledge and practical operation to enable them meet the requirements that would propel them to work independently.
Since the beginning of this year, the company has carried out daily training to local employees on 1,086 occasions, translating to 17,566 man hours. Notably, practical operations training has been conducted on 749 occasions, translating to 3,234 man hours.
From 2017 to date, seven assistant locomotive drivers and four passenger train attendants have been selected and deployed to participate in training for relevant professions in China. This would be a continuous process.
Additionally, Kenya Railways has enlisted 394 new recruits in assistant locomotive driving, rolling stock maintenance, transportation and signaling and communications.
The new recruits are currently undergoing a 2-6 month training program at the Railways Training Institute (RTI) before entering the positions.
After graduating from RTI, SGR will also carry out daily, full time on-the-job training to enhance competence of these trainees and help them grasp theoretical knowledge and practical skills in preparation for the operation of 28 freight trains by the end of the year, as per the Kenya Railways plan.
According to the plan, SGR is poised to start the transportation of bulk cargo in August and with a target to operate 28 freight trains by the end of this year, achieving 10 million tonnes of annual transportation capacity, which was to be achieved by 2024, as stipulated in the original agreement.
If SGR meets this target of 28 freight trains, more could be introduced in 2019, thereby increasing the throughput of Mombasa Port and attracting freight source from ports of other countries. This will further enhance the importance of Mombasa Port in Africa and its strategic position.
Ultimately, Kenya’s economy will grow. This is the pre-eminent goal of SGR and also the aspiration of Kenyans.
-The writer is a communications adviser at the China Road & Bridge Corporation (CRBC) Kenya.