Shipping & Logistics

RVR halts Nairobi-Mombasa passenger service for upgrade

Commuters board a Rift Valley Railways train at the Kenya Railway Station in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE
Commuters board a Rift Valley Railways train at the Kenya Railway Station in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE 

Rail operator Rift Valley Railways (RVR) has suspended its Nairobi-Mombasa passenger services as it begins to overhaul its operations.

Group chief executive Isaiah Okoth said the company would use the intervening period to revamp its wagons.

“We are no longer providing the passenger train service from Mombasa to Nairobi and back for the next four months,” he said.

The move is set to lock out hundreds of passengers who have preferred the mode of transport to the numerous bus firms that ply the route.

A total of 9,000 passengers used the service in July, according to the RVR statistics.

The passenger train which usually leaves Mombasa on Sunday was forced to use the Kilindini line on July 31 after a cargo train carrying 25,000 tonnes of wheat to Uganda overturned in Kibarani in Mombasa. The cost of travelling first class is Sh4,405, second class Sh3,385 while third class travel which involved transport only is Sh680.

For RVR, the Nairobi to Mombasa trip has been more lucrative during the holidays due to high number of people visiting the Coast.

“We are taking back all the coaches for refurbishment to have them look more modern as part of our strategy to revamp the business to a more luxury outlook,” he explained.

The upgrade of the 20 wagons, Mr Okoth said, is being done locally through corporate partnership with the actual cost being determined after the tender is floated.

The Kenya-Uganda rail operator is expected to bring back the modernised coaches at the end of November in anticipation of holidaymakers looking to spend Christmas at the Coast.

Kenya Railways Corporation conceded their core mandate of trains operation and railway improvement to RVR on a 25-year concession arrangement.

China-based financier China Exim Bank forced Kenya to pick a Chinese company as the operator of the rail business on the standard gauge railway without public bidding.

China Communications Construction Company, the firm building the Sh357 billion Mombasa-Nairobi railway line, is expected to run the rail business and the government is said to be finalising a five-year agreement.

The RVR is expected to face competition from the new railway upon completion of construction in June next year.

Mr Okoth said while the railway operator does not expect to lose all its business once SGR kicks off operations, it was one of the reasons they opted to focus on new clientele.

“With modern coaches it will be easy to target travellers looking for a more luxurious experience while enjoying the scenery and the wildlife in the park through which the old line passes,” he said.

The RVR also operates commuter services in Nairobi.