Companies

Kenya Railways to inherit few Chinese expats after SGR takeover

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Kenya Railways Corporation MD Philip Mainga. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NMG

Summary

  • KRC managing director Philip Mainga said the corporation would handle the loading and offloading of the SGR passenger and cargo trains as part of a deal to fully run operations on the Chinese-funded and built track by May.
  • Mr Mainga sought to downplay fears that Kenyan workers currently stationed at AfriStar have not been fully trained to take over SGR operations come June.
  • KRC in 2017 contracted AfriStar, a subsidiary of China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), to manage SGR operations and maintenance.

The Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) has taken over more functions on the standard gauge railway from the Chinese operator ahead of the full transfer in May.

KRC managing director Philip Mainga said the corporation would handle the loading and offloading of the SGR passenger and cargo trains as part of a deal to fully run operations on the Chinese-funded and built track by May.

KRC has been handling ticketing, security and fuelling since March last year.

“The corporation has now assumed the loading and offloading functions from Africa Star Railway Operation Company and in terms of percentages we can say that we are now at 60 percent overally,” said Mr Mainga in an interview on Thursday.

“The management and the board is determined to see a gradual takeover of operations from AfriStar. We are optimistic that once all staff members from the operator are brought on board, the cost of operation will go down.”

Mr Mainga sought to downplay fears that Kenyan workers currently stationed at AfriStar have not been fully trained to take over SGR operations come June.

He said that the number of Chinese currently working at AfriStar have been reduced, with only a few individuals handling critical areas remaining.

The deal, Mr Mainga said, will see Kenyan workers currently stationed at AfriStar absorbed by KRC once they resume full operations of SGR operations while non-critical Chinese workers will be phased out.

“We will need only a few technical expatriates once we resume full operation of the SGR in May,” he said.

KRC in 2017 contracted AfriStar, a subsidiary of China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), to manage SGR operations and maintenance.

Under the contract, the operator had the right to manage the ticketing system and any associated software and hardware functions of the SGR.

The Kenyan government in 2020, however, reached a deal with AfriStar to take over operations and maintenance by May 2022. This is after it emerged that payments to the operator were unstainable.

The cost of operating the SGR has been a concern with data by the Transport ministry showing that taxpayers spend an average of Sh1 billion per month on the Mombasa-Nairobi railway alone.

Revenue collection by Afristar has in the past trailed expenditure—exposing taxpayers to a huge bill for sustaining operations.

Apart from the operating fees, Kenya is obligated to honour repayment of the Sh324 billion it borrowed for the project from the Exim Bank of China in May 2014 and started repaying last year after expiry of the five-year grace period.

Parliament last year recommended that the SGR operating costs be cut by half and the terms of the loan taken to finance its construction renegotiated to ease pressure on taxpayers.

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