Rehabilitation of the 240-kilometer old meter-gauge railway from Nairobi to Nanyuki has started, in a move expected to ease the cost of transport of goods in Mt. Kenya region and lead to the revival of the now nearly dead former ‘Railway Towns’ in the region.
Kenya Railways Corporate Affairs Manager Margaret Kawira confirmed the works have started. “We are securing and clearing the corridor in preparation for the works,” she said.
The rehabilitation works have started in Nanyuki, Laikipia Governor Nderitu Muriithi confirmed to Mt. Kenya Star.
He said the works, being undertaken by the Kenya Railways Corporation will cost Sh3 billion.
The works have started a week after Mt.Kenya governors met in Nairobi to agree on kick-starting the project which has delayed since 2017 when it was first proposed.
The revival is seen as part of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s plan to accelerate implementation of promised development projects in the region that has become politically restive in the recent past.
Muriithi said that during the meeting, the Kenya Railways Corporation management agreed to inject Sh1 billion immediately into the rehabilitation works, with the balance to be raised by the National Treasury.
Earlier, Kenya Railways officials told Mt.Kenya Star that the plan is to upgrade the current railway line from a 50-pound-load type, which is only capable of carrying three light locomotives to 80-pound load so that a single train can carry 1,400 tonnes of goods.
The railway line serving greater Mt. Kenya region has two branches. The first branch, which is undergoing rehabilitation starts from Nairobi-Ruiru-Thika- Makuyu-Murang’a-Sagana-Karatina- Nyeri-Naro Moru-Nanyuki.
The second branch starts from Nairobi-Limuru-Kijabe-Longonot-Gilgil-Ol Kalou- Nyandarua.
Mt. Kenya region has been depending only on road transport, meaning that farmers incur high costs of transport especially those ferry-ing bulk goods.
Its revival means that produce like coffee, tea, macadamia and other destined for sea export will be transported to the Port of Mombasa directly by railway, cutting the transports costs by nearly a half, money that will be retained by farmers and traders as profit.
“The road transport has been the only alternative mode of transport for bulky agricultural cargo as well as commercial goods such as oil. Compared to rail, road transport is expensive both to farmers and business people and greatly shortens the lifespan of our highways,” said Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi, one of the initiators of the new project.
Governor Muriithi said rehabilitation of the railway would be done in three segments in a period of five months.
The sections include Nanyuki-Marua, Marua-Sagana and Sagana-Thika with clearance of bushes along the line being undertaken simultaneously in the three areas touching Laikipia, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Murang’a and Kiambu counties.
Muriithi said governors from the respective counties met officials from Kenya railways revealing that President Uhuru Kenyatta gave them a timeline of five months for the project to complete and railway put to use by the end of May.
Muriithi further noted that fuel products will be main cargo after revitalization of the railway line placing Vivo Energy company as one of the anchor customers.
The company has a significant investment of fuel depot next to railhead in Nanyuki.
“Fuel products sold in this region, the upper Eastern and Northern Kenya can be drawn from here. We want to see the large fuel trucks taken of the roads since it’s cheaper and safer to ferry fuel on railway line,” the Governor said.
The depot, which has a storage capacity of 11 million litres, distributes fuel products to some parts of central Kenya, northern and eastern regions.
At the Nanyuki railway terminus local youth contracted by the corporation were clearing bushes along the line before engineering works could be carried out.
Governor Muriithi added that a team from the National Youth Service (NYS) and technicians from the Kenya Defence Forces would be deployed later once the bush clearing was complete to take up the technical aspects of rehabilitation of the railway.
“We want to speed up the exercise because besides the five counties in the list there are plans to extend railway line to Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Embu Counties that were initially not served by the old line,” said the governor adding that they intend to ensure all counties under the Central Kenya Economic Block (CEKEB) are served by rail.
Additionally, there are plans to extend the line extended to Isiolo to link up the region to the Lamu Port and Southern Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET).
“Connecting the entire Central Kenya to the railway line will give economic impetus to the region that boasts of over 10 million in population with a combined economy of Sh40 billion,” he said.
He said that the revival of the line comes at an opportune time when large deposits of iron ore have been discovered in Laikipia and therefore would greatly serve in transporting the raw materials to smelting companies in Ruiru.
County governments from the region had pledged to set aside Sh100 Million towards the project, but the governor revealed that their financial input would not be required and instead they would provide construction equipment and give waivers of taxes for ballast, sad and other construction materials that will be sourced locally.
Contractors from the region have also asked to be allowed to apply for jobs in the revival of the line.
Before railway transport in the region stopped, Nairobi-Nanyuki highway was a boost in the agricultural sector as trains transported goods in bulk and now farmers hope to sell farm products to other regions or export to other countries.
Towns like Maragua, Sagana, and Karatina are set to regain vibrancy after operations commence.
Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria said the rehabilitation of the railway line will culminate into the rise of new business opportunities along the corridor like hotels, malls, resorts etc. thereby creating employment to our youths.
“The rehabilitation will not only be timely but historic because the railway will reopen and recalibrate the trading corridor.
There will also emerge new modern produce markets along the corridor where our farmers can trade their commodities with assured cheap transport,” said Mr Iria.
Robert Murimi, a large-sale purple tea farmer in Mathira, Nyeri County said the railway would help in establishment of purple tea factory in the region as transport of the tea products will be available.
“Purple tea is valuable but we are selling at a loss since there are no factories to process the special tea. But railway transport will open businesses and offer cheap transport,” said the farmer.
The rehabilitation of the railway line will also give credibility to the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in places like Ruiru, Thika, Maragua, Kandundu and Sagana that will serve as employment as well as technology transfer hubs for our young generation.
Value of property in the town along the line are also expected to rise in the development of the real estate sector.
Eviction of traders Initially, there was confusion after Kenya Railways issued eviction notice to those who had encroached their property mainly affecting traders at Karatina and Chaka towns where the level of encroachment is high.
However, Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga said there were looking for an alternative site for traders.
“We had an engagement with the Kenya Railways and the president advised to spare Karatina and Chaka until they get an alternative site to relocate traders,” said the governor.
Governor Kahiga noted they would allow traders in Chaka to operate at the current location until construction of the new market is completed.
“We resolved to have rehabilitation in other sections go and hopefully before the works get to Karatina, we will have found a solution. The project must go on and eventually everyone will have to vacate railway property,” he added.
The traders had initially protested the notice arguing that they operated along the line for over 40 years.
The notice by the corporation had threatened to forcefully evict anyone who will have not vacated any property belonging to them.
Currently, there are concerns on the revival of the line after most of its infrastructure have been vandalised including the stations in different points.