Kenya Railways: It’s a struggle to make Kisumu rail profitable

Kenya railway Managing Director Philip Mainga (center in a cap) at Fort Tenan railway station along Nakuru- Kisumu line. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

After successfully completing the rehabilitation of the Nakuru-Kisumu railway, Kenya Railways is now trying to figure out how to introduce trains on the new line.

Interviews with some of the agency’s officials who sought anonymity said it was yet to come up with a plan that would lure passengers and cargo to the new rail.

The officials said Kenya Railways’ top managers have now retreated to board rooms to brainstorm on a plan to make the rail turn a profit.    

Shipping and Logistics has established that the Kisumu-Butere line is also complete.

Speaking in an interview, Kenya Railways Managing Director Philip Mainga said collaboration was needed with State agencies such as Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and private firms before the first commercial train hits the rail.

The Nakuru-Kisumu rail cost Sh3.6 billion. “We are working on plans to rejuvenate the rail. We are in the process of refurbishing some of the trains we intend to introduce to the route,” said Mr Mainga.

However, there could be hope for the railway, given that cargo being handled by Kisumu Port has doubled in the last one year to 30,000 tones, according to KPA documents. The increased cargo, according to KPA, could find its way to markets through the rail. 

KPA is one of the main entities seeking to tap into services the revived line can offer.

Kenya Railways, due to its own logistical challenges, is noncommittal on the exact date Western Kenya will start enjoying the services of the rail again after almost two decades’ wait.

According to Mainga, vandalism is a big problem facing the rail. Unscrupulous businessmen and scrap metal dealers are always attacking it, forcing KR engineers to keep repairing it. A week ago, officials from the corporation conducted tests along the Kisumu-Butere line.

Kenya Railways said the line would be a boon for regional trade, given it will be the main artery for ferrying imports and exports to and from Kisumu Port.

Mainga told Shipping and Logistics there was hope that the Kisumu line could be operational by end of the year.

Kenya Railways had earlier this year announced that transport services would be introduced by November.

According to Mainga, the agency is in the process of refurbishing the trains that will ply the route. Kenya Railways plans to boost cargo transport, which it hopes will give the revived rail a spur.

The line connects to the recently refurbished Sh3 billion Kisumu Port, whose own economic viability relies on an active rail network to help connect Kenya to regional export markets.

Kenya Railways has finished constructing an inland container depot at Kibos in Kisumu.

Although the rehabilitation of the Kisumu-Butere line is also complete, residents may have to wait longer to start enjoying its services.

According to Mainga, the line targets the local transport and logistics sector, but will be made operational after the Kisumu-Nakuru line is effectively revived.

“We have already conducted a test run on the Kisumu-Butere line, but we will first start by introducing rail services on the Kisumu line first,” he said.

Farmers in Western Kenya are looking forward to tap into the line to transport agricultural produce to Kisumu and Nairobi. They believe the line will help them cut logistics costs.

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