How infrastructure will unlock growth along the northern transport corridor

Roads and Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

Planned interventions by Kenya and Uganda to decongest the Malaba border post will greatly improve efficiency on the trade route served by the port of Mombasa.

During a tour of the facility a week ago by Roads and Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen and his Ugandan counterpart Musa Ecweru, the ministers announced measures the two governments would implement to improve operations at the Malaba One Stop Border Post (OSBP).

They include installation of more scanners to speed up cargo clearance; opening up of alternative roads in the final stretch to Malaba on both sides; expanding storage and parking facilities and investing in more railway wagons. Malaba is a critical post on the Northern Corridor.

On a typical day, it handles over 1,000 cargo trucks, making it only second to Mombasa on quantity of goods it processes. However, the post is prone to periodic, debilitating congestion, especially when the scanners break down.

Such is the monstrosity of the congestions that sometimes the traffic gridlocks stretch as far back as 70km on the Bungoma - Malaba road! Due to narrowness of main roads to Malaba, the two governments announced plans to build alternate routes into the town on both sides.

There is also planned construction of a separate lane for the hundreds of trucks that pass through the busy post on their way to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the eastern parts of the DRC and from these territories into Kenya.

The two officials also visited the Kenya Railway Corporation's (KRC) marshaling yard at Malaba, and announced that the facility would be improved through the installation of cargo loaders, scanners and marshalling vehicles. The yard serves the existing Metre Gauge Railway (MGR), which is the alternative route for freight through the border town.

Further, Kenya and Uganda are considering a proposal to have goods move seamlessly on the MGR line between the two countries before the SGR connection is completed. Significantly, the facilities' tour by the officials came following a meeting of East African Community (EAC) Roads and Transport ministers in Kampala, during which the measures were agreed on.

The Northern Corridor as a trade route, has great potential, already handling about 45 million tonnes of cargo, against the latter's 20 million tonnes. For starters, the Dar es Salaam port has already implemented an ambitious $357million port improvement project that invested in both the hardware (infrastructure) and software (human resource capacity). With the above measures, which have been framed as temporary, a superior solution is envisaged with the proposed extension of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) further into the hinterland, from its current final terminus at Naivasha.

SGR has already demonstrated its superiority in efficiently handling the transport of growing freight in and out of the region.

-The writer is a communication specialist in the railway transport and logistics sector