Inside Sh32b plan to revamp railway system

The government has made grand plans to revamp the railway transportation system, setting aside billions that will be used to complete the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) and rehabilitation of the old Metre Gauge Railway (MGR).

In its budget for the 2021-22 financial year, the National Treasury has set aside more than Sh32 billion that will be used on the improvement of the railway services.

The money will also be spent on improving the commuter railway in Nairobi, where there are plans to construct new stations as well as link lines to the Nairobi commuter railway, increasing access by commuters.

The bulk of the money, Sh27.2 billion, has been allocated to the Nairobi-Naivasha SGR with the balance going to revamping of metre gauge railway lines.

Key projects in the revamp of the metre gauge include the rehabilitation of the Nakuru-Kisumu railway line that has been allocated Sh700 million.

Another Sh2 billion has been set aside for the construction of a link between the Naivasha Inland Container Depot (ICD) and Longonot town, which connects the SGR and MGR as well as the rehabilitation of the old railway line between Longonot and Malaba.

Graphics: The Standard

The two projects will enable cargo owners and even passengers to use the railway from Narobi to western Kenya. They currently terminate at the SGR station at Mai Mahiu, after which cargo owners have to use road transport.

In rehabilitating the metre gauge railway line, Kenya Railways (KR) has been employing the services of the Kenya Defence Forces and the National Youth Service as opposed to hiring a contractor. The corporation has so far rehabilitated the Nairobi-Nanyuki line while works on other sections are still ongoing.

Kenya Railways recently said a contractor was expected to cost Sh18 billion. KR however said it spent Sh1.8 billion on the revamp of the metre gauge railway network. The line to Nanyuki, which is currently in use to ferry passengers and cargo to central Kenya, was rehabilitated at a cost of Sh1.2 billion.

The metre gauge railway system had been falling apart following years of under investment and neglect. The rehabilitation is part of the plan to revamp the old railway lines that have either not been in use or are dilapidated and also include the Nairobi commuter railway.

Kenya Railways has also said it is rehabilitating 31 locomotives that will be used for passenger and cargo service to western Kenya.

Also set for a major overhaul is the Nairobi Commuter Rail. Many routes of the passenger service have been undergoing some improvements as government seeks to serve more people as well as enhance service delivery.

According to the 2021-22 budget documents, the government plans to spend Sh450 million on a new metro line between the Embakasi station and Ruai.

Another Sh400 million will be spent on a railway metro line between the Athi River Station and East African Portland Cement and a further Sh450 million on another line between the Athi River Station and NSSF Mavoko.

The investments in the revamp of the commuter service will be in addition to the recently acquired Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs).

The government had acquired 11 units from Spain and received the first five DMUs. It expects to take delivery of the remaining six to enable it increase the frequency of trains plying the different routes across the city.

The units, while faster and more efficient than the age-old locomotives, are not new but refurbished, previously used by the regional government of Majorca, which has in the recent past started greening its public transport through electrification of buses and trains.

The city’s commuter rail service is part of the larger plan to improve connectivity within the Nairobi metropolitan through modernising and expanding the underutilised railway transport infrastructure facilities. While currently the focus is on rail, Kenya Railways plans to rail transport with road.

The Ministry of Transport has in the past said the service is used by upwards of 13,000 commuters daily, making it an essential service for the city.