Newly acquired wagons to revitalise railway transport

Newly acquired wagons at the SGR Gate near Port Reitz Station in Mombasa County on February 5, 2024.  [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

The Kenya railway transport sector has witnessed a significant leap forward with the arrival of an additional 430 brand-new wagons for both the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) and the Metre Gauge Railway (MGR) freight services.

Kenya Railways procured the wagons with funds provided by the government. This addition brings the total wagon count to 1,900, a substantial increase from the previous 1,600 for the SGR freight service, while those of the MGR have increased from 1,395 to 1,595.

These aren’t your average wagons either; they boast a capacity of 70 tonnes and 64 tonnes for the SGR and MGR respectively, representing a significant upgrade from the older models that could only handle 36 tonnes each. The impact of these high-capacity wagons is poised to reshape the dynamics of cargo transportation.

The decision to procure these wagons was motivated by the aging existing fleet, some of which are over 40 years old. This proactive approach aligns with the government’s dedication to keep pace with the demands of a modern and growing economy. These single 40-foot wagons, in addition to the 80 double stacking ones on the previous fleet, not only enhance efficiency but also open up new avenues for transporting diverse types of goods.

This strategic investment by Kenya Railways directly addresses two critical challenges: boosting freight services and improving efficiency at the busy Mombasa port. The need to shorten turnaround times for ships docking at the port cannot be overstated. It is instructive that the port of Mombasa had a backlog of close to 100,000 tonnes of cargo including 45,000 of steel coils, among other conventional and loose cargo.

Faster cargo discharge, particularly for heavy and bulky items like steel coils, is crucial for smooth port operations, and the new wagons with their increased capacity are perfectly positioned to address this bottleneck. This will have a ripple effect, reducing congestion at the port and streamlining the entire cargo movement process.

The impact extends beyond Kenya’s borders. The government’s commitment to serving its East African neighbours, particularly Uganda and South Sudan, is commendable. Efficient and reliable railway transport plays a vital role in facilitating regional trade, and Kenya’s efforts to modernize its infrastructure will undoubtedly benefit the entire East African Community.

The ongoing discussions with Rwanda to ensure Kenya handles more of its cargo through the Northern Corridor, further solidify Kenya’s position as a regional logistics hub.

The rehabilitation of the MGR line, with only a small section near Voi remaining, is another positive development. This not only strengthens Kenya’s domestic connectivity but also opens doors for increased trade with Tanzania’s northern region.

The expected arrival of the final 20 wagons in the next two months, coupled with the recent launch of 50 new wagons and the planned introduction of additional SGR passenger coaches later this year, paints a clear picture – Kenya is serious about revolutionising its railway transport sector.

Looking ahead, the potential benefits of this modernisation extend beyond immediate capacity increases. The new rolling stock presents a unique opportunity for Kenya Railways to tap into the lucrative perishable goods market.

The introduction of refrigerated compartments within the wagons would be a game-changer, allowing for the safe and efficient long-distance transport of temperature-sensitive products.

Additionally, the increased availability of wagons will eliminate delays in cargo movement on both rail networks, ensuring timely deliveries and a more reliable service for clients.

The writer is a regular commentator on transport and logistics

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