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Relief for city residents as commuter rail system opens

By Allan Mungai | November 11th 2020
President Uhuru Kenyatta at the Nairobi Central Railway Station, where he commissioned new trains for the revamped Nairobi Commuter Rail System, yesterday. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta has commissioned five new trains, which are part of the ongoing efforts to ease transport for residents of Nairobi.

Uhuru yesterday unveiled the Diesel Multiple Units (DMU), part of plans to revamp the Nairobi Commuter Rail System, aimed at reducing traffic congestion within the city.

The trains are part of the 11 refurbished diesel units that Kenya bought from Spain at the cost of Sh1.17 billion.

President Kenyatta said the DMUs will create a new commuter experience for city residents that will be faster, much more affordable and reliable. The president pointed out that every journey will take less than an hour.

The new train service will serve high-density residential areas of Ruiru, Mwiki, Embakasi Village, Athi River, Kikuyu, Kahawa, Githurai, Dandora, Pipeline and Donholm.

The launch of the trains coincided with commissioning of the refurbished Nairobi Central Railway Station, which will serve as the nerve centre of operations connecting to 10 stations in satellite towns, including newly-built stations in Donholm and Pipeline.

The station was reconstructed as part of the ongoing modernisation programme of the Nairobi Commuter Railway Service that will give Kenyans a marked change in their movement across the city.

Kenya Railways revealed a radically transformed Nairobi Railway Station, complete with card activated ticket barriers and a new platform. Commuters will be paying using either cash or mobile transaction via M-Pesa.

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President Kenyatta, who spoke at the Nairobi Central Railway Station, described the commuter rail system as a milestone for an integrated mass transport plan in Nairobi and an important step towards achieving Vision 2030.

After flagging off a train leaving the Nairobi Central Railway Station for Syokimau, the president boarded another DMU to Embakasi Railway Station for a tour of the station.

The motivation to have a new and working rail transport system in the city had as much to do with economic concerns as it did environmental ones, President Kenyatta said.

Wasted in traffic

He quoted studies that had reported Kenya losing as much as Sh400 million each month as the value of the time wasted in traffic and about Sh50 million each day in road congestion costs.

Uhuru observed that Kenya’s over-reliance on road transport had negatively impacted the environment.

“By diversifying our urban transport solutions and giving commuters the options of faster and cheaper travel by rail, we will reduce the number of vehicle trips, thereby save Kenyans their time and money while enhancing air quality,” President Kenyatta said.

Kenya Railways is set to further expand its network and services by shipping in the six remaining DMUs and constructing an additional 20 mini-train stations along Kikuyu, Ruiru and Embakasi line. 

Further to the train system, the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) and Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) are refurbishing synchronised traffic lights across the city.

President Kenyatta said NMS will construct a transport management centre at City Cabanas, along Mombasa Road, that will utilise traffic cameras, sensors at 100 new junctions in addition to the existing junctions as well as redesigning and signalising 25 new intersections 

Kenya Railways will operate daylong hourly trains to and from the stations and will integrate it with the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which will connect the train station with matatu and commuter bus termini.

The president said the government has so far spent Sh6.6 billion in upgrading the commuter rail stations within the Nairobi Metropolitan region, including the access roads and the integrated and modern ticketing system that accommodates offsite booking.

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said the launch of the new train system was a proud moment for the country and the first time in a century that the Nairobi rail system was being improved.

Nairobi, he said, now joins the ranks of the United States and select countries in Europe and East Asia whose transport system ran on DMUs.

The project is supported by the World Bank, which funded the preliminary studies to do the master plan, as well as the Spanish and French governments, which helped acquire the DMUs and revamp the line from Syokimau and JKIA respectively, said Macharia. Kenya Railways hopes to serve of 200,000 passengers daily once the new railway system is fully operational.

Uhuru also commissioned a Kenya Railways transit shed and container freight station which will be run by the railway agency and Kenya Revenue Authority. He warned public officers against creating bottlenecks in government to force traders into paying bribes to access services.

“If you are not satisfied with the salary you are paid then resign and go into business,” President Kenyatta said.?

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