After all the political messaging and euphoric passenger rides that began in July, the real test for the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is finally coming in January with the introduction of the freight services.
The efficacy and impact of the entire SGR can only be seen and felt through cargo transport — which is the railway business’ main raison d’etre everywhere in the world.
The cargo trains have the potential to hugely impact Kenya’s economy. First, the shorter time it takes to transfer goods from the port to the hinterland should save costs. Transferring most of the cargo from the trucks to the trains should also reduce road damage and accidents.
Notably, the introduction of the freight trains has been delayed, initially having been set to begin in December. Kenya Railways has been grappling with some aspects of the service such as pricing and movement of cargo from the inland container depots to the final destinations.
Yet this is what will make or break the SGR project. This is because while the benefits of railway transport may be self-evident to the players, success depends on the management of the business to the best standards.
The business, even without government interventions, must be competitive to attract import, export and other transport players who have traditionally relied on road transport.