The Chinese constructors of Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) have commenced laying of track on the Nairobi Naivasha section, a process that is expected to take another 18 months to completion despite continuous doubts being raised on the viability of cargo train.
Ground work on the phase has been going on for the 120 Kilometre stretch including the construction of a 4.5 Kilometre tunnel- the longest such in Kenya, This is the initial stage of its journey towards Kenya-Uganda border at Malaba but this initial work will terminate in Naivasha as government prepares sourcing funding for the rest of the sections.
Doubts have been cast on the viability of the cargo services on the already completed section between Mombasa and Nairobi as a promotional offer given by the railway managers to attract business failing to do so.
Kenya Railway is charging a promotional offer of $300 dollars for a forty foot container which is extremely affordable compared to transport by road. However, clearing at the Nairobi Inland Depot as well as additional costs of last mile delivery has made not as popular.
The old train used to carry up to 30 containers, but now the new train can carry 216 containers highly increasing trade volumes. The Inland Container Deport is currently receiving a minimum of 800 TEUs, making 5,600 TEUs weekly and 291,200 TEUs annually. This is however a tenth of the total expected capacity.
The railway corporation runs a single cargo train from Mombasa to Nairobi compared to four passenger trains. While the cargo train takes a minimum of eight hours to shuttle from Mombasa to Nairobi compared to over 20 hours on the road, transporters are not convinced.
This has led to the government issuing different directives geared towards increasing volumes on the train. For example, all government agencies are required to only use SGR in their transportation needs between the two cities. Equally, importers have been compelled to use SGR and their cargo collected from the Embakasi Inland Port.