Railway will energise economy and bring back the mojo in rural towns

Wednesday March 18 2020

The new management of Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) has clearly targeted recovery, revenues and reputation to re-engineer a corporation long mired in scandals.

KRC will therefore appreciate the Cabinet's approval on September 5 of Sh6.9 billion for the completion of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR)-linked Inland Container Depot at Naivasha.

Significantly, part of this money is earmarked for building the infrastructure necessary for the seamless connection of the SGR to the old MGR (Metre Gauge Railway) and transition of freight at Longonot.


Even better for KRC, is that the train will return to the border town of Malaba. That means a new lease of life for travel, transportation, businesses and agribusinesses, for the expansive Rift and Western Kenya region through which the MGR snakes to Malaba.

President Kenyatta gifted Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni land in Naivasha when he visited in March.

Nairobi wants Kampala to ferry its goods by MGR and SGR via Malaba.

So Nairobi expects Kampala to build a cargo holding base in Naivasha.

This is also why Christmas will come early for the commuting residents of Ngong. KRC will introduce a passenger service between Nairobi and Ngong in December.

They will travel on the SGR to Syokimau then switch to the MGR at the old Central Railway Station. With only one stop in Rongai, KRC should easily win over Ngong residents to the smooth 40-minute ride into the capital's Central Business District.

SGR is KRC's launchpad to recovery.


Managing Director Philip Mainga, in a rarity in corporate Kenya, penned an op-ed piece last month in which he revealed that SGR operates between eight and 14 cargo trains from Mombasa to Nairobi daily.

That was an eye opener as was the line that the cargo and passenger SGR trains had from May attained the initial break-even projections, bringing in 258 freight trains by transiting 23,522 container tonnes.

Mr Mainga called this achievement attained in a period of two years a phenomenal success that was meeting KRC's founding objective of supporting Kenya's nascent industrial and agro-processing sectors.

On the increasingly popular Madaraka passenger service which launched in May 2017, Mr Mainga reported that it had ferried some 3,020,889 passengers.

He said KRC has laid a solid, bankable foundation and support system for Kenya's rail transit system especially for cargo.


I am excited for the people of Ngong (for the advent), the counties through which the MGR snakes to Malaba and the SGR from Coast to Rift Valley (for the return). Here's why.

Growing up at Khulelwe (Upon-the-Railway) in Ebwiranyi in Ebunyole in Vihiga County in the 60s and 70s, the train was central to our communities.

By its coming and going, to and from Kisumu or Butere, we told the time - 6am, 9am, 11am, 12.00, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm.

By the train, we timed and ordered our chores, journeys, events and appointments or, put simply, our lives.

By the length or shortness of the passenger train and fullness or emptiness of the coaches, we told the bountiful and lean times of the month respectively.

A long goods train, especially an unexpected one, meant abundant cargo was headed our way and business would boom as somebody would make money ferrying goods from the station.

Luanda (Eluanda for us) was our railway station and Mudepo (named after a World War II Depot) our halt. They were focal points for meetings, passing information and gossip, and, more importantly, trading.


Many centres dotted the Kisumu-Butere railway line. We recounted them as the trains came and went to showcase our knowledge of the world.

Then in the 80s it became a case of now-you-see-it-now-you-don't. Traders struggled. In the 90s, the train disappeared and all train-linked trading ceased.

The death of  Kenya's rail transit system saw the decline of train-based urbanisation, railway-based centres as focus of jobs and as impetus for agribusiness. This tragedy spread across Kenya.

More than 30 years later and after myriad false starts, the current management of KRC is painstakingly picking up the pieces and laying the foundation for the return of the rail transit system.

Mr Mainga's optimistic op-ed showcased the green shoots of recovery of KRC, aided greatly by monopoly of shifting port cargo.

However, there is a lot of work to be done, especially regarding the repossession of railway land and properties brazenly and illegally grabbed by the powerful.

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