Kenya will start running the standard gauge railway 10 years after launch.
In the meantime, an Australian engineering firm will jointly run and maintain the line with China Road and Bridge Company.
John Holland, a subsidiary of the China Communications Construction Company, will ink the deal with the government and the China company on March 31, as plans to launch the Mombasa-Nairobi railway line enter the homestretch.
Transport and Infrastructure Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said the contract will allow the government to train enough engineers to run the line afterwards, he said on Wednesday.
“We are working closely with the contractor to train Kenyans. We have sent about 60, out of a planned 100 people. We are also working with the contractor and local universities to make sure that we have a dedicated curriculum on railway engineering.”
John Holland, which is based in Melbourne, specialises in construction of railroads and tunnelling in New Zealand, South East Asia and the Middle East.
On its website, the company lists the building of the Perth City Link rail project worth $360 million (about Sh36 billion), the Southwestern Metropolitan Railway worth $400 million (about Sh40 billion) and the fully-automated Sydney Metro Northwest system as projects it took part in.
The signing ceremony in Nairobi will signal the start of train runs on a line set for completion in 2018. The firms will be required to monitor the functioning of the line and repair any damages. They will also manage ticketing and scheduling of trains.
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All ready by May 15
China Road and Bridge Company says construction of all the nine stations on the 472km railroad between Mombasa and Nairobi, as well as all other facilities, should be complete by May 15, two weeks to the official launch by President Kenyatta on June 1.
In an update to journalists last week, Mr Macharia said Kenya Power will provide a dedicated line of electricity to all the nine train stations.
By last week, workers were putting final touches to the main station in Mombasa, near the Moi International Airport. The station will have close-circuit security cameras, VIP and ordinary sections, boards announcing train schedules, ticketing offices and shops.
The railway will also be under tight security. The Ministry of Interior will provide a special police unit for this.
The government estimates that about 40 per cent of cargo will be transported through the railway line, saving regular maintenance costs of roads. It could carry about 22 million tonnes of cargo, according to estimates from the Ministry of Transport.
The current line constructed in the 1900s carries about 10 per cent of cargo annually and is very slow.
More new roads
But where will this leave road transporters? Mr Macharia says they will still have business.
“There are new roads coming up. When you take 40 per cent cargo off our roads, there is still a lot of cargo because we are opening up more roads,” he said.
“We will be constructing the 580km road from Lamu to Garissa and on to Isiolo. We could have some transporters using that road.”
There are also plans to link the railway with the Lamu Port currently under construction. The government will be constructing a Sh200 billion link railroad from Lamu to Mombasa.