The final rehabilitation of the old Nairobi-Nanyuki meter-gauge railway has picked up steam, with the project expected to unlock Central Kenya region's economic potential.
The 240km railway line was lastly used in the late 1990s, but the recent arrival of train wagons at the Nanyuki terminus has given the residents renewed hope that an efficient and affordable mode of transport is almost a reality.
To the residents of the expansive Central Kenya, the railway line revival means reduction in transportation of agricultural produce, revival of industries, creation of jobs and decongestion of the busy Nanyuki-Nairobi highway. The line cuts through Nairobi-Thika-Maragua- Sagana-Karatina-Nanyuki.
Soon, trains will start snaking through the region which is rich in tea, coffee, and dairy farming.
Along the railway line, few metres from the Nanyuki terminus, stands the Nanyuki petroleum deport operated by Vivo Energy.
"Vivo Energy has a significant investment next to the rail end in Nanyuki which can store about 11 million litres of petroleum products. This means that large trucks ferrying oil will be pushed off the road and it will be cheaper and safer to have it transported through the railway," Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi told Shipping&Logistics.
"We must ensure flow of goods within and outside the region so as to promote trade. We have a good opportunity to grow this economy and the rehabilitated railway will be a key boost."
Kenya Railways has sent to the Nanyuki terminus two low-sided wagons for carrying murram and tools, two hopper wagons to ferry ballast and one passenger coach for carrying workers who are refurbishing the railway line. KR also dispatched one locomotive for pulling the wagons and the coach.
The corporation says that Covid-19 has slowed down operations of the railway along the route but hinted that they might kick off by the end of June.
"We are doing ballasting along the line which is our key operational requirement. We have identified issues of drainage along the line which need to be cleared. We want to make this line fit for operations by the end of June. We will be able to complete the line in few weeks," said the corporation's Managing Director Philip Mainga, while inspecting ongoing rehabilitation works at the Nanyuki railway terminus.
"We have a team conducting repairs from Nairobi heading this way and they are now at Maragua. There is another team that is repairing the line from Nanyuki towards Sagana. We are happy to confirm that the line from Nanyuki to Sagana is in good condition."
The railway line was constructed by the colonial government in 1908 to facilitate commercial farming for the white settlers who had pitched tent in Laikipia.
The line was also used by the British as a tool for easy colonisation of Central Kenya.
The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) Laikipia branch chairman Ndegwa Gitonga said affordable transportation of goods will immensely help in opening up the region and avail ready market for produce.
"When there is an affordable transport system, industries in this county will definitely be revived and flourish. Our products will easily get market far and beyond, and Mt Kenya will greatly benefit economically,” he said.
The chairman appealed to the national government to speed up the reopening of Mount Kenya Textile Industry (Mountex) in Nanyuki now that the railway will provide efficient transport of the products to the market.
"Manufacturing is one of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda and we are really keen on having this industry reopened so that the region's economy grows. Thousands of unemployed youths translate to growth of market and improved purchasing power," he saids.
The railway is also expected to play a key role in the mining sector. The Laikipia 2020 report shows deposits of different minerals have been identified at Laikipia North Sub County. The exploration took place between May and July last year.
The minerals include iron ore, marble, kaolin, sepiolite, bentonite, bauxite, garnets, graphite, sillimanite, quartzite, mica, vermiculite, granite rocks, phonolite and basalts, sand and gravel and clay minerals.
Industrialisation Chief Administrative Secretary Lawrence Karanja said the ministry is keen on ensuring that value addition is conducted on the minerals once the exploration and exploitation process is complete.
"There are auxiliary industries that will come up in the mining regions to facilitate value addition of the extracted products," Mr Karanja said.
"As a ministry, we are ready to partner with the county government in setting up these crucial auxiliary industries because we have projects and resources required to support small-scale manufacturers in the region. This will increase economic opportunities for the local communities."
In March this year, President Uhuru Kenyatta inspected the rehabilitation of the railway in Nanyuki and Chaka terminus.
Mr Kenyatta said the revival means agricultural produce such as coffee, tea, miraa, macadamia and rice will be ferried to Mombasa port directly.
"Towns on which the line passes will regain economic vibrancy and that means more business opportunities for the people. That is the Kenya we want,"Mr Kenyatta said.
Kenya Railways injected Sh1 billion out of Sh3 billion required to complete the railway line's rehabilitation. The balance was sourced from investors and other government departments.