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Traders rue lost sales after railway closure

By Renson Mlegwa Mnyamwezi | September 7th 2021

Railway line at Mwaktau garrison in Mwashoti Taita. [George Mulala, Standard]

Humphrey Mcharo relied on the Voi-Mwatate-Taveta railway line to earn his daily bread.

But its suspension 17 years ago turned his life upside down.

The Wundanyi-based trader says he frequently used the train, which was cheaper and more reliable compared to road transport.

“We are feeling the pinch after the Kenya Railways suspended the train services. The train minimised accidents and robberies along the Mwatate-Taveta road,” says Mcharo.

“Following its suspension, most of the traders are out of business,” he said.

Mcharo used to ply the route to buy agricultural produce at Taveta market on the Kenya-Tanzania border.

Another trader Fenny Marura concurs that many businesses were affected by the suspension of the railway line that stretches up to Moshi in Tanzania.

Tanzania police officer manning the gate at the border of Kenya and Tanzania, February 12, 2021. Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

Kenya Railways said the suspension of train services on the route was because of lack of viable business between Kenya and Tanzania.

Marura says towns along the railway line grew because of the free flow of trade between the two countries when the train services were operational.

She says with reliable transport in place, traders could easily go to Tanzania to buy goods and sell in the county daily.

Residents say suspension of the railway line has caused a significant decrease in economic activities.

“Many small-scale traders abandoned their businesses due to high cost of road transport, pushing people further into poverty,” says Peter Mshimba, a trader.

A spot check reveals that a large section of the railway line is still intact except for a small portion vandalised.

The former administration had initiated plans to revive the railway line, but this stalled.

Former Taita Taveta Governor John Mruttu had earlier hinted that the Ministry of Transport, Kenya Railways, British, and China governments had pledged to support the project.

He said the dilapidated sections were to be repaired while awaiting proper construction.

Former Taita Taveta Governor John Mruttu. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Mr Mruttu said his administration considered private partnerships to fast-track the implementation of the project owing to its potential to spur economic development.

“The Voi-Taveta railway line if revived will form a link between Kenya and Tanzania for freight and passenger services,” Mruttu stated.

Taita Taveta County Government spokesman Dennis Onsarigo yesterday said the county administration had earlier talked to the Kenya Railways to have the line revived for the benefit of the local community.

“We have been talking to the Kenya Railways authorities to have the railway line revived,” Onsarigo said.

The government has earmarked the Naivasha-Kisumu meter-gauge railway for refurbishing in the 2021/2022 financial year.

This will add to the Nairobi-Nanyuki railway, which was rehabilitated recently, giving cargo owners who prefer moving goods on rail connectivity with the Standard Gauge Railway.

Pressure is now mounting on the government to revive the railway line to boost trade between the Coast region and Tanzania.

Andrew Mwamburi, the Taita Taveta branch chairman of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says besides reducing transport costs to traders, revival of the rail service will decongest Mombasa port and serve the northern part of Tanzania.

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