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Health & Fitness

Interlink road, rail costs to reduce health burden

Imara Daima Railway Station
Commuters at Imara Daima Railway Station. The trickle down to Nairobi County’s rail infrastructure has been insignificant. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

In 2008, the Institute for Economic Affairs’ publication, The Budget Focus, released an analysis titled Infrastructure-Road and Rail sector budget performance 2003-2008. Ten years down the road, a review shows progress on the roads sector allocation, but excluding the standard gauge railway (SGR), no scale-up as far as urban rail infrastructure is concerned.

Public health practitioners, now realise the health and socio-economic costs inefficient and unsafe road transport causes. Beyond caring for road traffic accident casualties, respiratory disease linked to air pollution and mental strain patients from inefficient commutes, what proactive measures can we apply.

For both urban and long distance travel, trains are far much safer and convenient modalities than vehicles. A key evaluation metric for this is Disability Adjusted Life Years and fatality per 100,000 passengers or per kilometre. The Mombasa highway versus the Nairobi-Mombasa rail line are good comparisons for both commuter and cargo operators’ accident rates.

Two publications shed light on this: A Scorecard on Urban Transport and Health, as well as the joint WHO, GIZ Health Effects and Risks of Transport Systems (HEART). These sum up the challenges to be faced by future cities and also offer strategies to mitigate these problems.

One recurring recommendation is subsidies as ways to shift commuters from road to rail. Improved urban rail networks have an opportunity to reach more commuters, particularly those in low income areas where Kenya’s current rail lines run.

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Closer home, a scrutiny of resource allocation across counties shows roads through KeNHA, Kura and Kerra receiving more funds. This is through multiple sources including the fuel and road maintenance levy.

The challenge, however, is how to finance urban railway expansion, with the current rail levy going to the SGR. Unlike vehicle levies, train capacity does not give a viable source of financing for further improvement of the network. There is an opportunity for the Treasury and the Ministry of Transport to realise that shunting road traffic and levies to train commutes may in the long- term be a better option.

For this to happen, however, we need to interlink road and rail infrastructure financing. Road agencies must support access to existing and future train transportation. For instance, an analysis of 10 stops on the Ruiru-CBD train, none had access roads to the train stop.

Our annual transport performance scorecard should have a policy dictating a kilometre of new rail line for every 100 kilometres of new tarmacked roads. How do we finance new rail lines from non-conventional sources? The most visible option is motor vehicle levies and penalties from air pollutants.

The trickle down to Nairobi County’s rail infrastructure has been insignificant. So far in the 2018-2019 scrutiny of the county budget, nothing to write home about.

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