Kenya’s Vision 2030 goals could be realised before the target date if the benefits accruing from the standard gauge railway (SGR) are anything to go by.
A year after its inauguration, the SGR is on the path to steering Kenya to greater heights of economic development. Nothing exemplifies this better than the fact that, since July 10, it has been operating 14 freight trains daily between Nairobi and Mombasa.
With a train pulling up to 54 vehicles carrying 108 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers in a single direction, this translates to 756 TEU containers per day. In effect, the transportation capacity has increased sevenfold from the two trains a day early in the year.
Still, more good news is on the way with the projection of operating 28 freight trains daily this year. The upshot is that the 2025 target for freight container numbers has been reached. Significantly, the SGR has achieved the eight-year container transportation plan within a year.
By operating 14 freight trains daily, the SGR has fully utilised the advantages of MNSGR for its large volume, safe and comfortable, punctual and fast characteristics, reducing 700 trucks per day which were to transport heavy and empty containers between Mombasa and Nairobi.
It has, effectively, alleviated the tense traffic conditions on Mombasa Road and greatly shortened the time limit for cargo transportation, which is five hours faster than that of highway transport. More importantly, it has increased cargo transportation efficiency and reduced maintenance frequency and cost of road infrastructure.
Above all, the clearance of goods at the inland container depot (ICD) in Nairobi has eased the pressure on centralised customs clearance at the port of Mombasa and improved efficiency.
Put another way, operating 14 freight and four passenger trains per day means there is a train at each terminus every 45 minutes. That necessitates robust equipment and a sufficient number of highly skilled personnel with expertise in train operations, driving, maintenance, vehicle operations and cargo handling to ensure safe and smooth operations.
For instance, for each additional two freight trains, it is necessary to increase 14 Chinese locomotive drivers and 14 Kenyan assistant drivers. When the total number of trains is eventually increased to 14, operations will run evenly day and night, thereby creating employment opportunities for drivers while changing employees’ work shift mode at Nairobi and Port Reitz stations.
It would also increase the number of workers in loading and unloading, cargo inspection, vehicle inspection and maintenance inspection of electrical equipment and ensure the employees meet the job conditions.
It is noteworthy that the SGR has recruited 2,285 staffers from diverse professional backgrounds. Since the beginning of the year, the company has also carried out daily training to local employees on 1,086 occasions, translating to 17,566 man hours.
Notably, practical operations training has been conducted on 749 occasions, translating to 3,234 man hours. Since last year, seven assistant locomotive drivers and four passenger train attendants have been enrolled in a training programme to acquire skills in China.
Additionally, Kenya Railways has enlisted 394 recruits in assistant locomotive driving, rolling stock maintenance, transportation and signalling and communications. The recruits are undergoing two- to six-month training at the Railways Training Institute (RTI) before entering the positions. After they graduate, the company will also carry out daily, fulltime on-the-job training.
According to the Kenya Railways plan, the SGR is poised to start the transportation of bulk cargo next month and, with a target to operate 28 freight trains by the end of the year, achieving an annual transportation capacity of 10 million tonnes by 2024 as stipulated in the original agreement.
If the SGR meets this target of 28 freight trains, more could be introduced next year, thereby increasing the throughput of the port of Mombasa and attracting freight source from ports of other countries. That would further enhance the importance of Mombasa in Africa and its strategic position.
Ultimately, Kenya’s economy is set to grow at a tremendous rate. This is the pre-eminent goal of the SGR project and also the aspiration of the people.
Mr Kabecha is a communications adviser at China Road & Bridge Corporation (CRBC) Kenya