After two decades of neglect, Kenya Railways (KR) will rehabilitate the old railway line from Nakuru to Kisumu at a cost of Sh3.8 billion.
The exercise will start on August 1 when the contractor is expected on site. The works are expected to engage the services of thousands of youth.
Kenya Railways Managing Director Philip Mainga confirmed that repairs to the metre-gauge railway, which is more than a 100 years old, will take between eight to 12 months to conclude.
"With the infrastructure repairs, life of local communities will have to change. We expect locals to cooperate," he said.
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But what is good news for investors will be a bitter pill for families and traders who have settled on railway land as evictions loom.
Kolwa Central MCA George Omondi appealed to the Kisumu County Government to look for alternative land and resettle those who will be affected.
"This is an exercise of the national government and we cannot stop it. It is the development that we have been yearning for to take place for years," said Omondi, adding that investors had pledged to start income-generating projects in small towns along the railway and around the port.
Kenya Railways had initially said it would rely on external labour from China based on a bilateral cooperation agreement with the Asian nation that is the main funding agency of the standard gauge railway (SGR).
But due to fears of the coronavirus, Mainga revealed that KR engineers will oversee rehabilitation of the railway line.
"We will hire National Youth Service servicemen and women, and local youth under the second phase of the Sh10 billion National Hygiene Programme, known as Kazi Mtaani," he said.
The 216-kilometre Naivasha to Malaba railway line has fallen into disrepair after years of neglect. It is expected to link to the recently refurbished Kisumu port.
Last month, Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said the Longonot-Malaba SGR will pass through Nakuru and Eldoret towns. But he ruled out the modern railway passing through Kisumu as earlier envisaged due to lack of funds.
This after China announced in April last year that it would not bankroll a $3.7 billion (Sh398 billion) railway extension from Naivasha to Uganda through Kisumu.
A source at KR said the lack of external donor support means Kenya will have to source for the cash locally so that the project can carry on according to the initial design.
The change in plans dealt a blow to the Kisumu port, which was refurbished at a cost of Sh3 billion.
"We will not be going through Kisumu. Instead, we will use the recently acquired MV Uhuru to transport petroleum to Port Bell in Jinja, Uganda," Macharia said.
The refurbished MV Uhuru has the capacity to transport 1.2 million litres of petroleum on every trip across Lake Victoria, which allows it to make Sh4 million on every round trip.
The CS' statement did not sit well with Nyanza leaders who urged the government to reconsider the decision to shelve the SGR project.
Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong'o claimed that suspending the project would undermine a unity agreement between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, as well as scuttle a fresh initiative to revive white elephant projects.
"We raised concerns about the economic setbacks that this would cause the people of Nyanza, and, more so, the lakeside's economy," Nyong'o told The Standard.
Over the years, many programmes designed to stimulate the economy have either stalled or collapsed, thus spelling financial ruin for the region.
In the 1990s, there was bustling activity on the metre-gauge railway as demand for passenger services catalysed the movement of cargo to the region and neighbouring countries.
KR has installed cargo handling machines at the Naivasha Inland Container Depot that will ensure there is no queuing for trucks waiting at the depot. The government also plans to build a special economic zone (SEZ) in Miwani and offer cheap power to encourage cargo transport.
The Kisumu County Government has identified approximately 10,000 acres of land to set up the industrial park. The SEZ is projected to reduce bureaucracy and address domestic private sector constraints such as the cost of energy, limited transport linkages and market access.
Nyong'o said the availability of industrial and commercial land for the establishment of the industrial park will help spur industrial growth in the lakeside city.
"The SEZ will provide more land for small and large-scale industrial development, create jobs in skilled sectors and encourage knowledge transfer to bolster growth."