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Newly repaired rail line lies idle, open to vandals

SGR officer at the newly rehabilitated Kisumu-Butere railway [File]

Two months after the newly rehabilitated Kisumu-Butere railway was launched, trains are yet to start plying the Western Kenya route.

The 67-kilometre line is dormant and Kenya Railways fears vandals could start destroying it.

In the past, before the repairs were done, vandals had slowly preyed on the rail metals, leaving the line a desolate mess. Now, Kenya Railways is racing against time to reintroduce services on the line.

According to the corporation, the rail is key to opening the economy of Western Kenya. It has been touted as the avenue that will be a game-changer in rejuvenating transport of agricultural produce from the region to other parts of the country.

Shipping and Logistics has established that lack of locomotives to ply the route has delayed plans to breathe life to the line.

This, coupled with a decrease in demand for passenger services on the Kisumu-Nairobi route, has also delayed a plan by the corporation to introduce night travel to and from the lakeside city.

According to officials from the corporation as well as senior government officials, operations on the route are expected to start in March with the introduction of passenger services.

The corporation has sought the services of Kenya Shipyards Ltd to repair 31 locomotives. Some of the locomotives are expected to be introduced on the Butere line as Kenya Railways also mulls introduction of a night train to ply the Kisumu route.

According to Kenya Railways Operations Manager Mwalimu Disi, the plan to reintroduce passenger travel from Kisumu to Butere is at an advanced stage.

“We are done with rehabilitation of the Kisumu-Butere railway. Our plan now is to reintroduce passenger services,” he said.

Mr Disi said the rehabilitation of the line has been done to high standards and he is optimistic that operations will start once the locomotives are received.

Should the plans come to fruition, it will be a major boost for the region and will bring back memories when the line was vibrant with both cargo and passengers.

Its return is also set to rekindle memories of the legendary train dubbed “Karamojong” which plied the route in the 1980s and 1990s before the rail collapsed.

During those memorable days, the 3130 class train made three trips everyday between Butere and Kisumu. Passengers who were proceeding to Nairobi boarded a different train at the Kisumu terminus.

As part of plans to make the revival process complete, the corporation is also working on plans to build a footbridge connecting the main Kisumu passenger terminus and the Butere terminus.

The corporation said it is targeting the high number of passengers from Western Kenya to help make the line more profitable.

According to Dickson Oloo, the station master at the Kisumu terminus, the corporation is also in the process of procuring locomotives.

“We project the line to be very busy. Efficient transport is very vital for the growth of the economy,” said Mr Oloo.

He stressed that that his office has received a lot of inquiries from passengers keen on using train services to access Butere and other parts of Western Kenya.

Farmers in the agricultural counties of Western region are also eager to use the line to transport agricultural produce from the region to Nairobi and other parts of the country.

According to Oloo, passenger numbers peaked during the festive season.

Now, however, the train only makes a single trip per week. According to government spokesperson Cyrus Oguna, revival of the line is an initiative that the government has prioritised to help open up the economy.