The future of Nairobi’s transport has started to take shape with the completion of a 2.2 kilometre railway line connecting the newly-built Syokimau station with the old Embakasi line.
The line, the first railroad Kenya has built since the Second World War, is part of the Vision 2030 development blueprint whose goal is to make Kenya a middle income country in 18 years.
It has been built at a cost of Sh200 million and is expected to be operational by end of July.
The railroad is part of a larger Sh24 billion ($300 million) urban transport network that will connect Nairobi’s estates with the central business district.
“We will have two trains moving in different directions and with a capacity to handle 10,000 passengers a day,” Nduva Muli, the Kenya Railway chief executive, said on Tuesday.
The Nairobi commuter train that operates on a single route twice a day serves 50,000 people.
The new railway line will be served by six refurbished locomotives with a total capacity of 175 passengers each.
Transport minister Amos Kimunya said Kenya Railways will build a new 6.5 kilometres line connecting Embakasi to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) starting July next year.
Kenya Railway is building the Nairobi commuter train service with the technical advice of InfraCo Group.
“Construction of this line is a start in what should eventually be a shift from road to railway transport in Nairobi,” said Mr Kimunya.
Apart from the Syokimau Station, the Nairobi urban transport masterplan has three other new railway stations on the cards.
They will be built in Jogoo Road’s Makadara estate, Mombasa Road’s Imara Daima whose construction is ongoing and Nairobi’s Moi Avenue.
The plan aims at reducing Nairobi’s reliance on matatu transport and eliminate traffic jams that have become common in the city.
The masterplan for the Nairobi commuter rail includes proposed construction of new lines to satellite towns such as Ngong, Kiserian and Kikuyu.
The new line comes after years of underinvestment in railway transport that dates back to the 1940s.
Kenya has not built an inch of railroad since the British colonialists built the Kisumu-Butere line in the 1930s.
The break-up of the East African Community in 1977 was the start of a slowdown in regional rail operations that has persisted to date.
Repeal of the transport law in 2005 has allowed KR to enter into concession agreements for the provision of rail transport services.
An initial agreement was signed in November 2006 with Rift Valley Railways (RVR), giving the firm a 25-year freight concession over the 2,352km Kenya-Uganda railway and a five-year one for passenger services in Nairobi.
However, shareholder wrangles initially stalled activities at the firm, and its ability to effectively carry out its mandate.
“The boardroom wrangles experienced early in the concession unfortunately made RVR incapable of delivering the railway network they had promised but that is behind us now,” said Mr Kimunya.
“With the concession almost over we shall soon decide whether to extend RVR’s contract or give it to KR.”
The concession was one of government’s attempts to resuscitate the once popular railway transport that is now associated with broken down trains and deserted rail lines.
The departure from railway, which is a cheaper form of transporting cargo, has directed traffic to the roads where a considerable amount of investment has been made in the past eight years.
Whereas cargo volumes at the port of Mombasa have shot up to over 20 million tonnes as at the end of last year from seven million tonnes in the 1980s, volumes transported by RVR declined from 4.8 million to 1.5 million tonnes in the same period.
The concession now has plans to replace 70km of the dilapidated sections of the Mombasa-Nairobi line to improve efficiency.
The opening of the Syokimau station will however not be good news for everybody since the government has put residents of Mukuru kwa Njenga slums on eviction notice.