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Railway revival plan runs out of steam after Gakuru death

By Allan Mungai | Jul 18th 2018 | 4 min read
By Allan Mungai | July 18th 2018
Traders at Chaka Market in Nyeri County sell cabbages on the the abandoned Karatina -Nanyuki railway. There were plans to revive the railway. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Eight governors came up with a plan to revive the 240-km railway line from Nairobi to Nanyuki in Laikipia County last November.

The resolution was clear. Each county government would commit Sh100 million to kick-start the project that would take six months to complete and eventually cost Sh25 billion.

It was the brainchild of Nyeri Governor Wahome Gakuru who clinched the seat in a landslide victory having joined politics from the corporate world.

As one of the key architects of Vision 2030, Kenya's ambitious economic blueprint, Dr Gakuru easily convinced his peers in Mr Kenya region on the importance of the project. 

Unfortunately, he died shortly after and eight months later the plan to rehabilitate the old metre gauge railway seems to have run out of steam.

The plan involved the county governments of Nairobi, Kiambu, Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Nyeri, Laikipia, Nyandarua and Isiolo.

A review of the budgets of these counties for this financial year indicated that they had not set aside the Sh100 million needed, raising questions on the status of the plan.

The revival of the railway line was expected to reduce the cost of transporting agricultural produce, ease pressure on the highways, spur industrial growth and create jobs.

But progress has been slow and aside from the first meeting held on November 3, 2017 in Nanyuki, there has been no follow up meeting to finalise arrangements. The line was constructed in 1913 and later extended to Nanyuki during the course of the World War II to supply British forces with equipment.

It became the bloodline for farmers in the agriculturally rich region being used mostly to transport agricultural products from the stops in Nanyuki, Karatina and Sagana.

However, it has been derelict since the late 1990s when it was last used, and some sections have completely fallen away.

In other sections markets such as Chaka, Karatina and even Nanyuki sit astride the railway.

The project was to be conducted in two phases. First, the refurbishment of the line from Nairobi – Thika – Murang’a – Sagana – Karatina – Nyeri to Nanyuki and then construction of another line that would go up to Isiolo.

Gakuru said on November 4, 2017 that the goal was to position the region to benefit from links with North Eastern Kenya and Ethiopia through the Lamu Port and Lamu-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (Lapsset).

“When we connect the people of Mt Kenya, Isiolo, upper Eastern and Ethiopia, we are going to be connecting to a lot more and a lot of this country’s wealth lies in the north,” he said.

Kenya Railways Managing Director Atanas Maina, who was present during the meeting last year, said the Sh25 billion would be necessary to upgrade the track and purchase new locomotives and wagons.

The intention, the governors said, was to upgrade the railway from the current 50-pound-load type to 80-pound load so that a single train can carry 1,400 tonnes of goods.

According to the blueprint, the counties proposed floating infrastructure bonds to raise the required funds.

The counties would, however, still rely heavily on funding from the National government to reach the Sh25 billion target

The governors involved in the project said they were planning to meet to push forward with the plan.  

Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi admitted that Gakuru's demise had knocked “us a few steps back but the plan is still alive".

"It was a big blow that we lost Gakuru since he was one of those who shared in the dream to revive the economy of the region. Now we have to proceed and see how we can take the plan forward,” he added.

His Kiambu counterpart Ferdinand Waititu said the project was key to the region's economic growth.

“We had decided to push it to this financial year 2018/19 so we are supposed to hold a meeting to revive the whole idea,” Mr Waititu said.

The horticulture industry, coffee, rice and dairy farming were the key sectors expected to benefit from the project.

In the past there were warehouses in Sagana and Karatina and Nanyuki. Ever since the train service ground to a halt about two decades ago, some of them are barely operational.

"On the railway line we are going to develop industries and go downs, it will drive industrialisation in the region. The railway will be an alternative to the matatus, especially to the town along the railway," he said. 

Mr Maina said Kenya railways was designing the railway. “The plan is still ongoing and preparatory work in terms of feasibility studies, design work and identification of funding sources are on course,” Maina said.

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