Kenya and Uganda are jointly negotiating with China to fund and construct a new standard gauge railway that will connect the two countries.
Transport minister Amos Kimunya said Kenya was in talks with China to facilitate the construction of a new line between Mombasa and Malaba, which is expected to improve the speed of cargo movement by up to three times.
The government of Uganda is also negotiating for funds to construct the stretch of the line that runs into its territory from the border point of Malaba.
“Negotiations with the Chinese are ongoing and we anticipate that work could commence by year end,” the minister told attendants at a luncheon hosted by the Kenya Ports Authority in Nairobi.
The new rail line is aimed at shifting traffic from roads to high-speed trains that are more efficient in the movement of goods from Mombasa port to several destinations across the country as well neighbouring nations.
Transport accounts for close to 40 per cent of the total cost of doing business in Kenya. “A revamped railway will enhance overall efficiency of rail operations and increase quality and quantity of rolling stock,” Mr Kimunya said.
Though he did not indicate the amount of money targeted for the railway, insiders said the system would require about $4 billion (Sh336 billion), according to findings of a previous feasibility study.
Analysts said that the current metre-gauge railway lines being used in East Africa has become obsolete resulting in high operation costs and minimal returns for business men. This has also put a strain on roads as traders opt for trucks to move their cargo.
Mr Kimunya said that once completed, the new line would take up about 70 per cent of the total cargo being moved by railway.
The rest of the cargo would be moved through the current line that is jointly operated by the Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) and Rift Valley Railways (RVR), which is refurbishing the railway line from Mombasa to Nairobi.
“The upgrading of the railway will increase line speeds from the current 25 to 30 kilometres per hour to 70 kilometres per hour,” Mr Kimunya said.
RVR, majority-owned by Egypt-based private equity firm Citadel Capital, recently received $49 million in loans for use partly in the replacement of sections of the line between Mombasa port and Nairobi. The repair work has already began on a 70 km stretch.
Other members of the East African Community (EAC) are also planning standard gauge railway lines to boost transport efficiency under a master plan prepared through the bloc’s secretariat.
According to the blueprint that also seeks to rope in Ethiopia and Southern Sudan, Tanzania would be the largest beneficiary of the deal with eight new standard gauge lines linking it with Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.
Kenya will have two SG railway lines running from the coastal town of Lamu to Juba and Addis Ababa. One of the railway lines will connect the northern border town of Garissa with the Ethiopian capital while the other will connect Lamu to Juba through Garissa.
It is estimated that $180 million will be required to restore the region’s railway performance to where it was 20 years ago.
Apart from the EAC states, Nigeria, and South Africa are also stepping up efforts to adopt SG railway lines.
The West African nation plans to construct a new 8,000 kilometre SG line, while South Africa has proposed a similar high-speed line between Johannesburg and Pretoria.