Locomotives hitch delays inter-county SGR launch

The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) passenger train. FILE PHOTO | NMG
The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) passenger train. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

Lack of locomotives was behind the postponement of the launch of the SGR inter-county train service on July 1, which would have allowed passengers to alight and board at stations between Nairobi and Mombasa.

Transport secretary James Macharia said more locomotives are needed for the smooth operation of the two inter-county service trains  that will supplement the existing Madaraka Express train and will travel on both directions.

This is in contrast to earlier statements from Kenya Railways, which had indicated that delay of critical staff from China was behind the hitch.

Chinese firm — China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) — will operate the passenger and cargo business on the new Mombasa—Nairobi rail for five years.

“Inter-county train will be launched next month, but we need to fast track the process of bringing more locomotives, which are still in the high seas,” Mr Macharia said.

“Demand on Madaraka Express has outstripped supply. We had to fix this first and it’s the reason why we didn’t launch the inter-county train on time.”

Mr Macharia did not indicate the number of new locomotives needed for a smooth launch of the inter-county service.

Passengers travelling on the economy class coaches will pay Sh50 from Mombasa to Mariakani, Sh230 from Voi to Kibwezi, Sh160 from Athi River to Emali, Sh510 from Nairobi to Voi and Sh400 from Emali to Miasenyi.

First class, passengers will pay Sh140 from Mombasa to Mariakani, Sh920 from Voi to Kibwezi, Sh660 from Athi River to Emali, Sh2,130 from Nairobi to Voi and Sh1,670 from Emali to Miasenyi.

The train service will further pile pressure on bus operators, who have recorded reduced business on the Nairobi-Mombasa route since the launch of the SGR passenger train service in May.

Since the launch, two Madaraka Express trains have been departing at 9am daily from both directions, offering a four-and-a-half hour non-stop connection between Nairobi and Mombasa.

The express line is offering passengers a cheaper and safer alternative to single-lane highway between Nairobi and Mombasa that is often congested.

The SGR passenger economy costs Sh700  compared to between Sh1, 200 and 2, 000 for buses.

The 472-kilometre standard gauge railway line is Kenya’s largest single infrastructure project since independence, constructed at a cost of Sh447.5 billion including financing expenses.