Shipping & Logistics

Truckers brace for tough times ahead of SGR cargo service rollout

Rongai Workshop and Transport Limited managing director Vanessa Evans. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Rongai Workshop and Transport Limited managing director Vanessa Evans. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Long-distance truckers operating on the Nairobi- Mombasa highway are bracing for tough times ahead as Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) prepares to launch cargo operations on its Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line next month.

According to Kenya Railways managing director Atanas Maina, commercial trials have been ongoing since Friday to test logistics in preparation for full operations starting January.

“The freight activities currently taking place is a trial phase in preparation for full commercial activity that will begin in January,” said Mr Maina.

“It is basically meant to test the systems in place and ensure everything is in good working order, identify any gaps in preparation for the exercise.”

Road transporters on the busy corridor have been charging an average of Sh80,000 per twenty foot equivalent units (TEU) container from the coastal city to Nairobi’s Nairobi Inland Container Depot (ICD).

KRC will, however, charge $500 (Sh50,000) to transport the same size of container between the cities.

Traders will, however, have to foot the additional cost of moving the containers from the inland depot to their premises, meaning that some could still find it cheaper to use trucks depending on distance from the railway terminal.

Shippers moving cargo from Nairobi ICD to Mombasa terminal will also pay half of what importers part with to move items in the reverse direction.

For instance, it will cost Sh275 per tonne of agricultural input, Sh330 per tonne of light bulky goods and Sh660 per tonne of a vehicle, from Nairobi to Mombasa within a distance of 200 kilometeres.

In the opposite direction (Mombasa-Nairobi), the SGR freight service will charge Sh550 per tonne of agricultural inputs, Sh1,430 per tonne of light cargo and Sh1,320 per tonne of vehicles within the same distance.

Cargo trains will charge Sh1,100 per tonne of agricultural inputs, Sh2,860 per tonne of light bulky goods and Sh2,640 per tonne of vehicles within a distance of between 350 and 400 kilometres from the port of Mombasa to Nairobi. The opposite direction will attract a 50 per cent discount for each category.

“I can’t think it will be business as usual because as it stands, we are not sure of our role as road freight transporters,” said Rongai Workshop and Transport Limited managing director Vanessa Evans.

Ms Evans, who oversees her family business’ 105 trucks says that long distance transporter may have to venture into other businesses to survive.

“We are not really sure of how it’s going to work. It’s important that we get clarification bearing in mind they are going to take a huge chunk of cargo business along the Mombasa-Nairobi route,” she said.

SGR trains have a capacity to clear cargo population at a rate of 1,000 containers per day carrying an average of 88 (TEU).

According to KRC, the country has so far received 25 freight locomotives out of the 43 on order. It has also received 763 wagons out of the 1,620 units it expects.

The 25-tonne axle flat wagons can each carry a payload of 70 tonnes, implying 1143,400 tonnes can be hauled in all of them and deployed on a single trip to Nairobi.

The trains are designed to move at a speed of 80 km per hour, compared to the existing metre gauge rail trains, which on average do about half that speed.

The launch of the cargo service will bring the railway to full operation, with the line having been transporting passengers since June.

The second phase of construction of the SGR running 120 kilometres to Naivasha is set to begin in earnest in the new year, with the railway expected to reach Kisumu by 2022.