On railway transport, Kenya is certainly on the right track

A train at the Thika Railway Station on April 19, 2021 [David Gichuru, Standard]

When the Kenyan transport sector’s history is finally written, Madaraka Express passenger and cargo services will occupy an important chapter.

As it marks its fourth anniversary on May 31, 2021 Madaraka Express has been credited with revolutionising travel in the country, offering charm and tranquility that can’t be matched by other modes of transport. Operated by the Africa Star Railway Operation Company (Afristar), in conjunction with the Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC), the Madaraka Express passenger trains travel at a speed of 120km/h, thus condensing the travel duration between destinations on the route.

Madaraka Express service has also fostered new investment opportunities for Kenyans and thus contributed to community well being and economic growth. The local tourism sector has also been greatly impacted. Additionally, the service has impacted positively on the lives of many Kenyans, both young and old, through employment directly and indirectly. Since its inception, Madaraka Express has ferried over 5.32 million passengers. Between January 2018 and April 2021, the trains moved a total of 12,875,402 tons of cargo.

It is noteworthy that the changing landscape of the railway transport industry poses significant human resource challenges. For this reason, operators must develop knowledge transfer best practices to ensure that vital information and skills are retained within the industry.

For Madaraka Express, having a process in place to transfer skills from seasoned, departing Chinese employees to Kenyans will help the operator implement succession plans and provide ongoing training to prepare the workforce to adapt to change brought about by new technologies. Against this background, Afristar has designed various training programmes aimed at developing competencies standardised or recognised internationally for various cadres of staff.

KRC, in collaboration with Afristar, the operator of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), has made a conscious decision to make a mark in the sector by putting in place tailored strategies to improve and revitalise services to fill a void that has existed for a long time. In its quest to bolster economic recovery following a disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, KRC recently completed refurbishment of the Metre Gauge Railway, which is expected to play a significant function in sustaining businesses in the counties as well as creating the requisite cargo volumes to leverage the SGR and cement its viability.

This rehabilitation has heralded the re-establishment of the missing link in the business and agriculture supply chain that has faced myriad problems when the railway services collapsed in the eighties and the subsequent folding up of the Rift Valley Railways concession five years ago.

A key milestone is the recently refurbished 177km Nairobi-Nanyuki railway line, which is beginning to bear fruit, with the return of freight trains to the line, which last saw regular services in the 1990s. The revival of the branch will bring immense benefi­ts and spur economic growth to the counties within the region. It will provide a faster, reliable and safer transport means for high-capacity haulage of freight.  

Not to be left behind is the Nairobi Commuter Rehabilitation Project, with major infrastructure changes being undertaken to integrate and expand its different components with the aim of modernising and upgrading the existing infrastructure.

The project comprises the revival of the following lines: The 75km Nairobi to Konza city; the 26km Madaraka to Ruiru town; the 31km Nairobi to Kikuyu rehabilitation line and the 7.2km Nairobi to Embakasi Village rehabilitation works. The Nairobi Rail project is expected to improve passenger comfort, reduce the transit time and increase operation safety of the Meter Gauge Railway.

Another project lined up is the construction of a new Metre Gauge Railway line that will link the Naivasha to the existing Longonot railway station. Upon completion, the 24.3 Kilometre line will provide a seamless connection between the SGR and the Metre Gauge Railway line to enable efficient transportation of goods via the railway line from Mombasa to Malaba and/or Kisumu.

The project is part of the larger rehabilitation of the Longonot-Malaba and the Nakuru- Kisumu lines. The interface between the SGR and the MGR, together with the rehabilitation of the Naivasha to Malaba line, will speed up regional integration. The commercial benefits to be realised due to the development are enormous.

Notably, the Lake Victoria train ferry, MV Uhuru, has enabled the revival of sailings from Mwanza in Tanzania, to Jinja and Entebbe in Uganda and Muhoma Bay in Rwanda. This has raised hope for the revival of trade ties between Kenya and other regional countries through the revamped Kisumu port. Besides spurring the growth of the recently revitalised Kisumu port, the Kisumu line will drive maritime trade in the Great Lakes region.


The Standard
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