Kenya Railways plans to carve out 216 acres from Nairobi National Park for the standard gauge railway (SGR) line to avoid a huge compensation bill for industries and residential estates in Mlolongo and Athi River.
The idea to take over 0.75 per cent of the park, which has been termed critical, was mooted by the National Land Commission (NLC) after it was established that there is no money to compensate high-value properties affected by the current route.
The corporation intends to look for an alternative piece of land to compensate for the loss of the wildlife habitat.
A similar move by the Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha), which wants to excise 89 acres from the park for the Southern bypass, has received strong opposition from environmentalists concerned over wildlife disruption.
Kenya Railways has said that the current route will require taking over multiple residential and industrial land which will cost it huge sums in compensation.
In a new supplementary environmental impact report for the proposed 11.6 kilometre stretch, the corporation says the change in the rail route will also help the line avoid too many curves which will affect train speeds.
“The section of the SGR between chainage DK453+100 to DK465+455 within Athi River and Nairobi National Park areas requires to be realigned mainly to avoid demolishing culturally significant developments and economical high value installations that will require heavy compensation, and to make it more economical to construct the railway line,” the report says.
About Sh10 billion has been set aside to compensate those displaced by the 471-km railway which is set to cut freight costs to eight US cents (Sh7.80) a metric tonne per kilometre from the current 20 cents (Sh19.60).
Kenya Railways has said that if the route is not changed, multiple industries and residential properties will be affected. These include Bamburi Cement, Devki Steel Mills, Athi River Steel Plant, Kapa Oil Refineries, Orbit Chemicals, Muthama Heights Estate, Kenya Meat Commission, ISL Kenya and Murumbi African Heritage House, among others.
In August 2014, the corporation and the NLC had been allowed to excise 19.2 acres from the park.
While only half of the 216 acres will be used for the actual rail, the other half will be cut off from the park making it unusable for the animals.
“The total area of wildlife habitat to be lost through this proposed realignment as land use will be about 46.7 hectares (115.4 acres) and 40.6 hectares (100.3) will be left or fragmented from the rest of the park and left of little or no utility for wildlife,” the report says.
It further says that a public consultation saw 88 per cent of the respondents support the project with only 12 per cent opposed.
The 117 square kilometre Nairobi National Park, which was gazetted in 1946, continues to be hemmed in by human developments and risks being turned into a giant zoo, according to conservationists.
It has also suffered from poaching. The SGR report acknowledges that construction of the stretch might further increase the menace.
“The proposed realignment of the SGR within the Nairobi National Park is likely to lead to increased trophy and bush meat poaching,” it says.
The railway will stretch from Mombasa to Nairobi and is expected to cut freight and passenger costs. It is also expected to improve speeds to 120 kilometres per hour for passenger trains and 80 kilometres per hour for cargo trains.
State House on Tuesday said that Kenya had started talks with the Chinese contractor building the railway to extend the line to Naivasha from 2017. The extension, by 120 kilometres, will link special industrial zones that would be established in Naivasha, Nairobi and Mombasa.