Rich landowners hit by changes to SGR route
By Philip Mwakio
| June 8th 2015
If the contractor of the standard gauge railway had not altered the route of a 15km stretch from the port in Mombasa, a group of landowners would now be eyeing a very rich pay day.
English poet Robert Burns once wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
For this group of very rich men, this wisdom appears to hold true, at least for now.
Kenya Railways told The Standard that the contractor, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), altered the plans because the initial route was on a flight path out of the Moi International Airport, and would have posed a danger for planes landing and taking off at the facility.
And with it, the landowners’ hopes went up in smoke.
Some well connected speculators are an unhappy lot after their hopes of a rich pay day went up in smoke when the route of the prized standard gauge railway was altered to bypass their parcels of land on a 15km stretch between the port in Mombasa and Mariakani.
Kenya Railways told The Standard that the contractor, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), had to alter the plans because the initial route was on a flight path out of the Moi International Airport, and would have posed a danger for planes landing and taking off at the facility.
The SGR is to be electrified with masts and high voltage wires to accommodate freight trains carrying double-stacked containers, hence the changes, said Kenya Railways official and SGR Project Manager Maxwell Mengich.
"With double-stacked container freight trains, it necessitated a change to the initial design to avoid freight trains passing through the flight path near the Moi International Airport, leaving the Changamwe stretch to passenger trains only," Mengich explained.
The parcels affected are said to belong to rich individuals known to the Government, but Kenya Railways officials denied that the changes by the contractor were made with the rich landlords who own the 100 parcels in mind.
Close to 600 title holders along the SGR route between Nairobi and Mombasa are yet to be compensated for loss of their land, out of which 100 title deeds belong to individual owners, while the remaining 500 are in the custody of the Maganda Settlement Scheme.
Whereas construction has begun on several sections, operations on the 15km stretch are yet to begin yet there have been demonstrations by fishermen, squatters and other landowners demanding compensation.
Reports show tycoons who acquired land in the section under questionable circumstances are behind some of the demonstrations, for fear of losing their land altogether, or as a way to buy time to legalise what they acquired illegally.
The National Land Commission (NLC), which is in charge of compensation, admits works has not begun on the original 15km stretch, nor have landowners been compensated.
On Saturday, NLC Chairman Muhammad Swazuri announced that his team would meet CRBC and other stakeholders this week to discuss outstanding issues. Reports show that NLC will also hand over the new 15km stretch to the Chinese for the Sh327 billion SGR project.
Asked why construction had not begun on this stretch, Dr Swazuri suggested that it was partly because the Chinese "changed the design and route" of the railway, but could not explain why.
He further suggested that the change could have been prompted by the need to avoid hills and water bodies.
"I am not sure (why they changed) but they may be avoiding hills or water. Maybe the contractor can explain on Monday," said Swazuri.
Yesterday, Kenya Railways Managing Director Athanas Maina confirmed that construction had not started on that section.
''This is the starting point for the project. We want to finalise land acquisition and ensure that they are compensated before handing over the land where the track will be laid to CRBC,'' Maina said.
The SGR rail project is the single largest largest infrastructure project by the Government in the 52 years since the country gained self rule.
Sources indicate NLC has had a difficult task trying to verify the authenticity of some of the title deeds.
"There have been a lot of vested interests with reports that owners of some parcels of land along the stretch are well connected individuals who have been a stumbling block to the acquisition of land for the project," a source in the Government familiar with the matter, but who did not wish to be identified, said yesterday.
Apart from the 15km section, work is already in progress in Mariakani, Samburu, Taru, Maungu, Voi in Taita Taveta County and Makueni respectively, as the new track speeds towards Nairobi.
Dredging work has been ongoing to reclaim land totaling about 70 acres from the sea, which will serve as the marshalling yard for the trains.
The yard will be turned into a workshop and service area where trains will load and offload cargo.
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