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Uhuru Kenyatta rides on historic train as he warns vandals

The SGR train arrives in Nairobi from Mombasa. President Uhuru Kenyatta made the maiden trip on Wednesday May 31, 2017. Photo: Boniface Okendo

President Uhuru Kenyatta Wednesday commissioned the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), the most outstanding of the transformative projects he has initiated since coming into office.

It was a century and 22 years ago today when a white colonial master stood under the skies of the picturesque island of Mombasa to launch what was called the ‘Lunatic Express’, the railway line that linked the Kenyan coast to the shores of Lake Victoria.

The President also talked tough against anyone found vandalising key infrastructure installations, including the new railway line.

Uhuru described such criminals as economic saboteurs who should be hanged after trial.

“Those found guilty of vandalising such key projects will be hanged. Those who vandalise key principal projects are economic saboteurs and this is a capital offence whose punishment is death, said the head of State.

In the past week, close to 10 people have been arrested in Voi, Mariakani and Athi River trying to vandalise the SGR line.

The President also announced that it would cost Kenyans Sh700 to travel between Nairobi and Mombasa by train. It costs more than Sh1,200 to travel by bus.

The passenger train reduces the travel time between Mombasa and Nairobi to between four and five hours. By bus, the same journey takes passengers an average of nine to 10 hours.

Uhuru also explained that the maximum cost to move a container from Mombasa to Nairobi would now be Sh50,000.

In contrast, one would have to pay Sh100,000 and above to move cargo by road.

Kenya gained independence from the colonial regime 68 years after the ‘Lunatic Express’ was launched but despite the growth in population and economy, the country has been stuck with the old railway line that rolled on into the interior of the country.

The inadequacy of the old system resulted in pressure on the highway from Mombasa to Nairobi, leading to delays and exorbitant costs for commuters and cargo movers.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a high-level delegation led by a special envoy, State Councillor Wang Yong, to witness the SGR’s maiden journey.

Mr Wang said President Jinping was proud of the completion of the project, which is a result of China’s co-operation with Kenya for mutual gain.

Security was tight at the venue, with Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and Kenya Police Airwing helicopters flying ahead of the passenger train.

Uhuru said he had never signed a document commuting people to death by hanging, but he had handed life sentences. However, he would not hesitate to sign papers commuting vandals to hang.

“They do not want the best from anything. In the case of SGR vandalism, they (culprits) are out to portray the Jubilee administration in bad taste. The SGR does not belong to Uhuru, Ruto or Jubilee. It is a project for all Kenyans and is built by Kenyan taxpayers’ money,” Uhuru said.

‘Madaraka Express’

The President spoke at the Mombasa Terminus during the official launch of the SGR passenger train dubbed ‘Madaraka Express’, which he boarded to Nairobi.

The President’s tough stance on vandalism comes in the wake of a recent incident in which vandals struck a medium-low-lying bridge at Kibanda Hasara near Mariakani and deformed a concrete sidewalk, interfered with communication cabling and carted away several metal bars.

The President said the Government would tarmac a 2km access road from the Old Miritini Railway Station to improve access to and from the Mombasa Terminus.

Deputy President William Ruto said the SGR was one of Kenya’s biggest milestones and was a result of the Government’s commitment.

Speaking separately, Roads and Infrastructure Principal Secretary John Mosonik said Bayusuf Brothers, a construction firm, had been contracted to tarmac the road at a cost of Sh100 million.

And Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala and Mombasa Catholic Archbishop Martin Kivuva praised the project, saying it was a game changer for the country.

Awesome ride

Mr Balala said he had already directed the Kenya Tourism Board, the country’s top tourism marketer, to market the new passenger train service regionally and internationally.

At the Nairobi Terminus in Syokimau, hundreds turned up to join the President for the once-in-a lifetime event.

And at exactly 6.59pm, the passenger train pulled up with Uhuru, Ruto and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta on board.

This was more than two hours after the wagon carrying journalists arrived about 4.30pm.

Uhuru and Ruto described the ride that started at about 11am in Mombasa as “awesome”.

A visibly excited Uhuru joined one group of dancers after another for a jig amid the crowd’s cheering.

Under a canopy of tents erected adjacent to the facility, the crowd was kept entertained by traditional dancers, the State House choir and other groups of entertainers.

The event provided an opportunity for political undertones, pointing to the ruling coalition’s plan to use the railway as a campaign tool in seeking re-election.

In his speech, Uhuru told the Opposition off for always criticising his administration, saying they should acknowledge good projects his administration had undertaken.

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