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Naivasha SGR line starts Wednesday without cargo

SGR passenger train
SGR passenger train. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The Nairobi-Naivasha standard gauge railway (SGR) line will be opened Wednesday for passenger services with the cargo business set for a later launch following delays in modernising the old line to Uganda and construction of a dry port in Naivasha.

Kenya Railways acting managing director Philip Mainga confirmed the start of the passenger service but did not give details on the cargo freight — which is critical in ensuring the new line generates revenues to pay the Chinese operator and China loans used for its construction.

The passenger services on the Sh150 billion line will only be available in four of the 12 stations, including Ongata Rongai, Ngong, Maai Mahiu and Suswa .

“Passengers will start using the route on Wednesday,” Mr Mainga told the Business Daily Tuesday in a phone interview without giving details on fares and frequency of the trains on the new track.

The launch of the Nairobi-Naivasha has been muted unlike the Sh320 billion Mombasa-Nairobi line that was opened in May 2017 amid pomp in an occasion graced by President Uhuru Kenyatta and top Chinese officials at the peak of campaigning ahead of the General Election in August of that year.

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Monday, State House remained non-committal on whether Mr Kenyatta would flag off the train to Suswa as officials at the Transport ministry remained guarded.

“I can’t confirm that now,” State House spokesperson Kanze Dena said in a phone interview when asked about the President’s presence at the event. She promised to give a firm response today.

China Communications and Construction Company — which built the Nairobi-Naivasha line — has for the past two months been doing test runs on the new line ahead of tomorrow’s launch.

Century-old line to Malaba

The new railway was designed with 12 railway stations, including five in Kajiado County, one in Kiambu, two in Nakuru and three in Narok County. This line was to be linked with the old railway track after its revamp for seamless movement of cargo from the Port of Mombasa to Uganda.

The Transport ministry had quoted a cost of Sh21 billion for the upgrade of the old line, with funding from an unidentified private backer rather than building another modern one with Chinese money.

Rehabilitation of the century-old line to Malaba on the border with Uganda was set to cost Sh15 billion with the balance being used to build a short track connecting the SGR at Naivasha.

The government had targeted the revamp to be ready ahead of commissioning the second phase of SGR to allow for movement of cargo to Western Kenya and Uganda via rail from Mombasa port.

Transport Secretary James Macharia, who had earlier said the upgrade would start in June before revising the date to August, on Friday said the plan to modernise the old line is yet to be approved.

“We are upgrading the MGR from Naivasha to Malaba on a Public Private Partnership basis. We are about to complete the approval process,” Mr Macharia said.

Official data showed that SGR generated sales of Sh5.7 billion last year on the back of the cargo business. The passenger business generated sales of Sh1.61 billion, underlining the power of the cargo business in driving sales.

Monday, there were protests in Mombasa with truck drivers lamenting that the train service was taking business away from them. Similar protests were held last week.

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