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Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway

China leads other countries in the funding and building of mega projects in the East Africa region, according to an annual report released by Deloitte, a global consulting company. The report shows that China funded 10 out of a total of 43 projects in 2016. It built 18 of them. The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project is one of Kenya's Vision 2030 flagship projects that will play an important role in improving the transport system as well as strengthening cooperation among East Africa Community (EAC) Member states and promote economic development of the region.

The old meter gauge line, initially called the Uganda Railway, was built between 1896 and 1901, a time when the land had yet to acquire the name Kenya. For British colonists, it was a vast yet insignificant land that stood between them and the rich resources in Uganda. To open up Uganda, to tighten control over the "British East Africa" and to end the then notorious slave trade, the British government decided to lay a rail line to link the port of Mombasa and Uganda.

Using the railway, nationalists were able to travel from one end of Kenya to the other to join political rallies to encourage Kenyans to fight for independence. It was also said people were using the railway to transport guns to those fighting for independence. Moreover, big farms propped up along the line, turning the Kenyan land into a breadbasket and helping lay economic foundation for independence. The railway even gave birth to cities, including the Kenyan capital Nairobi, which was once a marketplace for railway workers to barter with locals.

Yet investing heavily on a railway in Africa was deemed crazy by some British parliamentarians, one of whom wrote a poem calling the railway a "lunatic line". So this is how the nickname "lunatic line" came into being -- created by misinformed British politicians, some of whom had never been to Africa and underestimated the continent's potentials. a total of 2,493 workers had died by the time the 931-km line finished construction, or four deaths for each mile. Man-eating lions wandering in the savanna, tropical diseases like malaria and attacks by locals resisting the "iron snake" invasion all became the Death Reaper.

By 2010 the meter gauge, due to aging and maintenance problems, has dropped its speed from to about 40 km/h, thus driving off much of Kenya's passenger and freight transportation onto roads.

The new replacement SGR is expensive. In December 2015 the Kenyan Treasury made the point that the SGR has caused an upwards revision of the fiscal deficit from the initial 7.4% of GDP to 12.2%. The World Bank, and others, warned that building a new railway, instead of refurbishing the old one, was by far the most expensive option. However, the government went ahead with the project, skipping an open tender to make a direct deal with China, which loaned Kenya 90 percent of the ventures cost.

The Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) and the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) on 30 May 2017 signed an operations, maintenance and service agreement for the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railways (SGR). Under the deal, CRBC will from Wednesday take over as operator of the 480 km SGR. CBRC's key functions, will be to run the railway system in accordance with schedule of the agreement with KR and also to undertake maintenance of the equipment and rail tracks to ensure that they are maintained in accordance with the prescribed manuals as well as the best global industry standards.

The operator of the train service, a Chinese consortium called China Communications Construction Company, plans to offer two types of passenger services. China Communications Construction Company would run the system for the first ten years before handing it over back to Kenyans, after training of local staff.

The SGR was developed under the leadership of the Kenyan government and will connect Mombasa to Malaba (with a branch line to Kisumu) onward to Kampala, Rwanda's Kigali from Kampala (with a branch line to Kasese) and Juba in South Sudan (with a branch line to Pakwach). Uganda has completed its studies and awarded the contract to China Harbor Engineering Co. It is estimated the 273-km project will cost $2.3 billion.

The railway promises to see Uganda, a landlocked country, receive its cargo from the port of Mombasa in a timely and less costly manner. The government expects the project to reduce freight costs from $0.20 per tn/km to $0.08 per tn/km. Transporting a 20-ton container from Mombasa to Nairobi by road costs $1,300, while a similar container from Mombasa to Kampala costs $3,400. The cost is $6,500 to Kigali. The Kenyan port is part of China's One Belt, One Road initiative, which aims to deepen global trade relations.

Chinese firm which is constructing the standard gauge railway in Kenya began laying of the rail track lanes for the Mombasa to Nairobi section in November 2015. Kenya ordered a total of 56 locomotives from the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation to ferry passengers and goods on the line. Some 40 passenger coaches will initially be procured, with a capacity of 118 travellers for the economy class, 72 for business class, and 44 for first class.

Kenya will now have an efficient train service plying the Nairobi Mombasa route. Transportation between the two cities will be more reliable and convenient. The SGR, providing both cargo and passenger transport services, cut dramatically the time and costs for the movement of goods and people. It was expected to reduce the time for a passenger traveling from Mombasa to Nairobi to merely four and a half hours compared to nearly 10 hours on bus. Time to transport cargo from Mombasa to Nairobi, meanwhile, will also decrease from two days to eight hours.

The 3.8-billion-U.S.-dollar infrastructure project was constructed by the China Road and Bridge Corporation, with 90 percent of the funding coming from China. The commissioning of the SGR would mean less congestion on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. Public expenditure on the maintenance of the road will also reduce due to less wear and tear as people will begin favoring railways to transport goods. One of the main reason why the Kenyan line is expensive is the massive bridges some stretching kilometers. Despite being 100 km shorter, Kenya is building 33 stations while Ethiopia is only building 18.

Officially started on December 12, 2014, the 472-km Mombasa-Nairobi Standard-Gauge Railway Project by China Road and Bridge Corp. is the biggest infrastructure project in Kenya since its independence in 1963. It is also considered the flagship of Kenya Vision 2030, the development plan that seeks to realize a medium-industrialized Kenya by then.

The existing meter-gauge railway built by the British connecting port city Mombasa and capital Nairobi has been used for over a century. Its annual freight volume began decreasing due to lack of maintenance and upgrading and accounts for less than 10 percent of Mombasa's total throughput.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on 31 May 2017 launched the passenger train service of the 480-km Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), paving way for the nation's endeavor for industrialization and prosperity. Terming it as "a new chapter" in the history of Kenya, the president said the modern railway will replace the meter gauge railway that was constructed more than 100 years ago during the British colonial rule.

"Today we celebrate the laying of one of the key cornerstones to Kenya's journey of transformation to an industrial, prosperous and middle-income country," he said ahead of embarking on the inaugural trip from Mombasa to Nairobi. The launch came one day after the Kenyan leader launched the first SGR cargo service between the two cities.

Kenyatta said that the SGR was made possible due to the close Sino-Kenya friendship. "I want to thank our partner and true friend China for the support that has enabled the construction and completion of the project after only two and a half years," he said.

Chinese State Councilor Wang Yong, who attended the launching ceremony as the special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping, said the Mombasa-Nairobi railway has been an early fruit that came out of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in late 2015.

"The Mombasa-Nairobi SGR is an exemplary project of China-Africa cooperation on the construction of roads, railways, aviation networks and industrialization," Wang said, adding that the SGR will bear great significance in boosting the development in Kenya and the region, speeding up Africa's industrialization process, and expanding the reach of the Belt and Road to more African countries. "China stands ready to work with Kenya to make the Mombasa-Nairobi railway become a railway of prosperity and development for Kenya, and a new example of the transformation and upgrade of China-Africa cooperation," said Wang.

Jackson Kinyanjui, director of the Kenya's Finance Ministry resource mobilization department, that serves as liaison with development partners, said China continues to be the preferred financier because it doesn't have the bureaucratic hurdles presented by other development partners. "China's financing model fits us very well. It is tied to aid, and the loans are concessional. But the bureaucracies of other development partners disrupt absorption and hence push back the commencement and completion of government projects," Kinyanjui says.

President Uhuru Kenyatta was on the receiving end ever since the inception of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project. The opposition government led by Raila Odinga and a cross section of the Kenyan public have been condemning the governments move to borrow from other countries such as China to finance projects such as the SGR.

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Page last modified: 14-07-2017 18:49:38 ZULU