Uhuru train plans may derail Kidero-Japan tram

Sunday February 28 2016

Passengers queue to ride Ethiopia's new tramway

Passengers queue to ride Ethiopia's new tramway on September 20, 2015 in Addis Abada. Kenya will launch a project to have a similar light train network in June 2016. AFP PHOTO | MULUGETA AYENE 

By VINCENT ACHUKA
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The ambitious plan by the national government to construct Nairobi’s first ever urban passenger light rail network has created confusion as the county government had also planned for a similar project whose construction was to begin this month.

The Sh15 billion project recently announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta when he met Hungarian ambassador Eduar Lazlo at State House is supposed to begin in June and is to be co-financed by both governments.

But the Nairobi County government had also entered into a commitment with different agencies that would see a Mass Rapid Transit System in the city whose construction was to start this month.

Plans for the MRTS were completed last year, and the county government made deals with the World Bank, the European Union, the African Development Bank and the Japan International Co-operation Agency (Jica) for funding.

NAIROBI LOOP

Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero even travelled to Japan last year, and Germany the previous year, to shop for a suitable rail system for Nairobi before announcing that the county had settled on the Japanese Yurikamome Mass Transit Automated Guideway Train system that transports some 170,000 passengers daily.

The county government Saturday insisted it was working with JICA with the aim of introducing a Nairobi loop line which would connect Mombasa Road, Thika Road, Ngong and all routes running into the CBD. “The national government project will compliment the county government project,” said county spokeswoman Beryl Okundi.

But the national government trashed the county plan, saying the county had no role in construction of railways.

“Railway development is a national government matter, unless it is under the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority,” Transport principal secretary Nyakera Irungu said.

JURISDICTION DEBATE

The situation is likely to raise questions about the level of consultation between the two levels of government when it comes to implementation of infrastructure projects.

Further, it will re-ignite debate on which of the two levels of government is in charge of transport in a particular jurisdiction.

The two governments are in a tussle over re-classification of roads that prised control of major highways from counties to the national government.

The government said it already has land to construct the new tram service, offering a reprieve to Nairobi residents who would have had to move out to create space for such a project.

“The land to be used will be Kenya Railways’. It is already in place, so there will be no acquisition of land, which in itself is a complicated process,” said Mr Nyakera.

“The new line will be run by Kenya Railways, while the Rift Valley Railways (RVR) will continue running the commuter rail,” he said.

The commuter rail network in Nairobi is operated by RVR on behalf of Kenya Railways, from which KR is paid a commission every month.

This is after a five-year concession for commuter services expired last June. Thereafter, the corporation resorted to issuing one-year contracts and waived a Sh102 million annual fee.

But RVR has encountered lots of problems while running the service, not least of which are technical hitches.

POOR STATE OF COMMUTER TRAINS

These have, in the past two weeks, led to cancellation of services, leaving thousands of commuters stranded. The latest was on Thursday on the Makadara line.

Nevertheless, Kenya Railways has embarked on a refurbishment programme to attract commuters back to its trains and hopefully decongest the roads.

Managing director Atanas Maina said the ongoing refurbishment is part of a wider strategy to woo more passengers through efficient and reliable services between the CBD and the outlying stations.

Passengers have been shunning commuter trains plying Embakasi, Ruiru, Kahawa and Kikuyu routes because of their poor state, despite the fact that train fares are half what public service vehicles charge.

The Syokimau-Nairobi commuter train is the only one that boasts of decent facilities such as hand rails following a recent upgrade.

Besides improving the coaches, the State-owned firm is renovating rail tracks.