Jubilation as Kenya launches Sh327bn standard gauge railway

President Uhuru Kenyatta flags off the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR cargo train on May 30, 2017. PHOTO/DPPS
President Uhuru Kenyatta flags off the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR cargo train on May 30, 2017. PHOTO/DPPS
The much-acclaimed standard gauge railway between Mombasa and Nairobi was inaugurated on Wednesday afternoon, shortening the 480-kilometre trip between the two cities from a typical eight hours to four and a half.

Speaking during the flag off ceremony for the new railway’s cargo operations in Mombasa, President Uhuru Kenyatta applauded the facility, which was built at a cost of Sh327 billion, as proof of his great leadership as he campaigned for re-election ahead of the August 8 polls.

“The foundations we lay today will lead us to a new chapter of industrialisation,” Mr Kenyatta said as he promised to fast track the formation of Special Economic Zones along the standard gauge railway.

The Mombasa-Nairobi SGR was constructed by the China Road and Bridge Corporation, which inked a pact with the Kenya Railways Corporation for feasibility studies and preliminary designs for the development in 2009.

The standard gauge railway project, which has been underway since November 2013, is 472.3 kilometres long – 442.6 kilometres of which run at grade and the remaining 29.7 kilometres comprising the total bridge length.

“There are 33 stations along the line, of which two will be traffic hubs at both ends and eight will be intermediate stations while 23 will be passing stations,” Kenya Railways managing director Atanas Maina said in a past press conference.

The Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway is designed with an axle load of 25 tonnes and is projected to move up to 22 million tonnes of cargo per year at a speed of 80-100km/hr for freight trains. Passenger trains are, on the other hand, expected to achieve speeds of up to 120km/hr.

The development is financed by the China Exim Bank to the tune of Sh294.3 billion, which is equivalent to 90 per cent of the total costs, with the Kenyan government topping up the remaining Sh32.7 billion.

The completion and inauguration of the new railway gives Chinese firms a more solid footing in Kenya, which is currently undertaking highly ambitious railway and road infrastructure projects.