Shipping & Logistics

Job losses that will come with fast cargo trains

The Kenya Railways commercial cargo train. FILE PHOTO | NMG
The Kenya Railways commercial cargo train. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya has finally launched its commercial cargo train. When the first such commercial trains discharged its cargo on January 1, managers at the Nairobi’s inland container depot (ICD) saw an opportunity to showcase efficiency, world class equipment or simply the logistical sophistication.

And so, up to Tuesday morning, one of the trending tweets was a post by President Uhuru Kenyatta which talked of the positive changes spawned by the recent launch of the ICD.

The Monday tweet read: “Today’s cargo train carried 104 containers, which is almost equivalent to the trucks operating daily on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway.”

The Kenya Railways says four such trains will initially be operating daily between Mombasa and Nairobi but the number will increase to eight. The President and other government officials are celebrating the ICD because it marks yet another milestone in Kenya’s bid to reduce the cost of doing business.

It may be the same case for traders from landlocked States who import through the Mombasa port. To this group, fast cargo train services between Mombasa and Nairobi can only imply low demurrage charges, paying less in freight cost and reduced time of waiting for imports.

The question is whether the production units are equally ready to process quickly and whether markets will expand fast enough.

But that is beside the point. Change will always be a double-edged sword. The very idea that one double-stacked vessel will be able to move up to 216 containers that currently takes hundreds of trucks to ship can also imply massive job losses.

And job loss it will be, not only because a few drivers will be required for the reduced number of trucks but also when the fast trains render hundreds of accommodation facilities built along the highway unwanted.

There are people who repair trucks, providing temporary storage facilities for container on transit.

But who wants more trailers on the road anyway?

Well, it will be awhile before we see the last of trucks on Kenyan roads. First, the Kenya Ports Authority says just a portion of its yard containers will be allocated to the cargo trains. Second, the construction of the Nairobi-Naivasha-Kisumu-Malaba rail line is still at its infancy.