The Cabinet has approved a Sh2.5 billion budget for the upgrade of the Nairobi commuter railway network, paving the way for importation of faster trains from Spain.
The move is aimed at growing the use of railway transport in the capital city.
The Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) is set to float the tender for the railway track upgrade this month in a plan that seeks to grow commuter numbers tenfold and cut the use of matatus.
Acting KRC managing director Philip Mainga told the Business Daily that budget approvals, which had been the key barrier for the track upgrade, had been granted.
The corporation forecasts that passenger numbers will grow by up to 10 times from the current 13,000 per day after the upgrade.
Matatus account for 80 percent of public transportation and are a major cause of congestion, prompting investments in commuter rail to ease traffic jams.
"We have the budget now cleared for the upgrade of the commuter lines and we are planning to create a park and ride concept where people can leave their cars at the stations and take the train to town," Mr Mainga said.
"In about three months the work should be well under way and we will soon be tendering for a contractor to be engaged."
Kenya Railways has been looking to expand its ‘’park and ride’’ concept, which was only implemented at a few stations like Syokimau and Imara Daima.
It involves motorists leaving their vehicles at the stations parking bays at a lower parking fee (about Sh100) and taking the trains to the city.
The railway lines spanning about 120 kilometres have been in use since 1992 when the Nairobi commuter railway (NCR) service was introduced as an addition to the long distance passenger services.
The 65-kilometre tracks have deteriorated over time due to poor maintenance, making railway transport slow and less attractive to Nairobi commuters who prefer matatus.
The upgrade will target all the five commuter lines from Nairobi Railway Station to Embakasi Village, Syokimau, Ruiru, Kahawa and Kikuyu as well as an upgrade of the Nairobi Central Station.
The revamped network is expected to attract a substantial portion of the 1.5 million city commuters who travel into Nairobi’s central business district (CBD) every day, said Kenya Railways.
The number of train passengers is expected to hit 132,000 per day and 220,000 commuters per day with full occupancy.
"The challenge we have with the existing commuter rail service is that the little equipment available is too old and inefficient, and the metre-gauge track is not in good shape because investment in maintenance has been inadequate for a long time," KRC wrote in a project brief released in December 2019.
The upgrade had been planned in readiness for the used Sh1.5 billion diesel multiple units the government is importing from Spain for city commute.
Last year, the multi-billion shilling track upgrade tender had been pushed towards the Chinese standard gauge railway builder China Road and Bridges Corporation after Transport Secretary James Macharia sought to have the firm single sourced due to lack of a local firm with ‘required capacity to undertake the works.