Friday, October 2, 2009

Kenya, Uganda in standard railway line pact

By GITONGA MARETE

The governments of Kenya and Uganda have signed a bilateral agreement for the construction and management of a standard gauge railway line between Mombasa and Kampala.

The signing of the agreement by Transport ministers Ali Chirau Mwakwere (Kenya) and his Ugandan counterpart John Nasasira follows an agreement by Presidents Mwai Kibaki and Yoweri Museveni in January over establishment of the railway line.

The agreement requires each government to cater for the cost of the construction of the line on their part, although the ministers neither revealed how much each government would inject in the project nor how it would be funded.

“What we know at this stage is that the project is viable,” said Mr Mwakere, adding that already, a feasibility study is being carried out, the ministers said, although they could not at the moment reveal who is doing the study.

The railway line is expected to provide a seamless link between the two countries with branches to Kisumu and Tororo in Uganda, and later on link to Rwanda and the Southern Sudan.

“The most important thing at the moment is that the railway line is feasible and a partner is already carrying out the study and will make the preliminary designs at no cost to the two governments although it is estimated to cost $US10 million (Sh750 million),” said Mr Mwakwere.

Mr Nasasira said the region was growing at such a fast rate that there was need to come up with such projects that will benefit the entire region as a whole.

“There has been a tendency to rely on the donor community when such projects are involved but this is fear that we as a region need to overcome for the benefit of regional economies,” he said.

“We cannot continue relying on the current outdated railway line and locomotives that move at 50 kilometres per hour. Over 80 per cent of railway operations today are modern and it is even becoming difficult to obtain spare parts for the old lines,” he added.

The ministers signed the agreement after conclusion of a regional conference on Northern Corridor Transport and Trade Facilitation at the Whitesands Beach hotel.

The two-day conference brought together regional transport and port stakeholders within the East African Community and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) with their trade block, the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa).

Kenya and Uganda have been engaged in a tussle with Rift Valley Railways over a 25-year concession on the development of a reliable rail network between Mombasa port and Kampala, a matter that is in court.