The country’s largest infrastructure development project, the standard gauge railway (SGR) project will mark its third year of operations at the end of this month.
Following the successful operations of the Madaraka Express passenger and freight service, Africa Star Railway Operation Company (Afristar), which is contracted to run and maintain the railway, has been keen on developing more local manpower to serve the sub sector with the aim of enhancing the operations in the long term.
Undoubtedly, the progress has surpassed expectations the latest report showing that at least 80 percent of its staff are Kenyan nationals, an indication that the goal to transfer its entire operations to Kenyans within the ten-year period is clearly on track.
Absolutely key to this vast project is the transfer of technical skills and gradually the entire project into the hands of dedicated Kenyan professionals. That way, the project will become self-sustaining and will establish a vibrant railway industry that can invest in Kenya and in the region.
Quality infrastructure remains at the heart of the country’s economic growth as it enables trade, connects people and builds social cohesion. It is also instrumental in fostering regional integration and supporting growth across the continent.
Kenya’s SGR Project will continue to play a major role in providing safer and more convenient passenger and freight services; drive economic and industrial growth along the railway and attract more foreign investment to Kenya, thus boosting Kenya’s economic transformation.
The SGR is expected to offer significant cost reduction for cargo ferried from the Port of Mombasa to neighbouring countries of Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.
This project will require additional skilled manpower in the years to come as the expansive railway line is projected to carry at least 22 million tonnes a year of cargo or a projected 40 percent of Mombasa Port throughput by 2035, thereby making it an integral part of the East Africa’s development agenda.
Like all other major Infrastructure construction projects, SGR had to deal with skills shortage and knowledge gaps locally. Skills transfer, human capacity development and the creation of jobs are all central to developing a railway industry that is economically and socially sustainable.
A larger and more efficient transport ecosystem will also create additional jobs thus addressing one of the most acute challenges facing the country right now.
There is a growing expectation among the youthful population on the direct correlation of economic growth and employment opportunities especially in the highly invested infrastructure development across the country.
We will need people who are properly trained to work in areas such as transportation, logistics, and other sectors if we are to take full advantage of our new infrastructure to create employment opportunities for more Kenyans.
Smooth transfer to locals has seen investment in training designed to deepen trainees’ knowledge on railway matters and empowering them to oversee operations efficiently.
There has been a notable increase in the number of African students graduating from higher institutions under scholarship programs provided by China Road & Bridge Corporation (CRBC) and China Communications and Construction Company (CCCC), who are the current SGR contractors.
To date, CRBC has fully sponsored over 100 Kenyan students to Beijing Jiaotong University to study communication engineering, rail transit signal and control, railway engineering and engineering management.
Plans to introduce a building for the railway major at the University of Nairobi (UoN) and to upgrade vocational training at the Railway Training Institute (RTI), will ensure Kenya has a steady supply of skilled manpower from the grassroots to management level.
The government has already set aside Sh2 billion for the construction of a modern railway training school. Half of the Sh2 billion will be used to refurbish the 60-year old Railway Training Institute and to set up a new engineering school specialising in SGR technical operations.
RTI has been identified as the Centre of Excellence for the Capacity building in the Railway Sector for the Kenya and the region.
A well-planned skills transfer programme will also ensure our highly skilled human capital remains on our continent.
Patrick Mwaura, communications consultant.