ALL ABOARD

MD Mainga drives railway growth and revival

MD is leading a spirited journey of awakening the country's slumbering giant rail network and building Nairobi's commuter system.

In Summary

• Mainga gets credit for modernising the Nairobi commuter rail system and reviving the rail network countrywide.

• He is also leading an anti-corruption war with the recovery of Kenya Railways assets that were grabbed when the railways stopped operating.

Kenya Railways Corporation MD Philip Mainga during an interview with the Star.
RAILWAYS BOSS: Kenya Railways Corporation MD Philip Mainga during an interview with the Star.
Image: FREDRICK ONYANGO

When Philip Mainga was confirmed as managing director of Kenya Railways Corporation in January, he knew he had a daunting task ahead.

An insider, Mainga had headed the corporation since August 2018 in an acting capacity.

He is a Star Person of the Year for his contributions to the SGR, for reviving and expanding the country’s dormant railway network and pushing Nairobi’s commuter rail system.

Mainga acquired a wealth of experience as he had been general manager for business operations. He played a critical role in putting SGR Phase 1 into operation in 2017 as well as freight services that started on January 1, 2018.

His three-year term as MD started on February 1.

Taking over the corner office at the KRC headquarters set him on an ambitious track of consolidating SGR operations and reviving the country’s railway network.

“When I came to the office, we were doing SGR Phase 2A, Nairobi to Naivasha,” the soft-spoken but assertive Mainga explained during an interview with the Star.

He oversaw the start of operations for both passenger and freight services to the Suswa substation and the Naivasha Inland Container Depot.

RAIL REVIVAL 

His focus then shifted to what is set to become one of the government’s great revival projects – resurrecting the country’s expansive railway operations that had remained dormant for more than two decades.

This includes restoring and refurbishing the old railway line between Naivasha and Malaba, as well as linking it with the SGR.

This will ensure a seamless rail system for both passengers and cargo between Mombasa and Malaba. The initiative is expected to stimulate the economy as well as ease cargo movement to neighbouring landlocked countries using the Port of Mombasa.

Mainga has recalled more than 2,000 former Kenya Railways employees to help.

He is currently overseeing construction of a metre gauge railway from Naivasha to Longonot, to be connected to the SGR. “The line is almost 60 per cent complete,” Mainga said.

Rehabilitation works are also underway on the Nakuru-Kisumu stretch.

“By April or May next year, Kenya Railways will have connected the SGR from Mombasa all way to Malaba where we will have a seamless operational train,” the MD said.

The line is expected to increase agricultural exports such as tea and coffee. It will also serve factories in Rift Valley and western Kenya and the fish industry in Kisumu, with ripple effects across the economy.

The line being linked to the Kisumu port is expected to support revival of Lake Victoria water transport, connecting Kenya to ports in Uganda and Tanzania in a major boost for regional trade.

During the Covid-19 period, the business community has suffered delays at the Malaba and Busia borders because of Covid testing. Trucks have taken as long as two weeks to make it across.

That won’t happen when lake transport comes to life, Mainga said.

He is also focused on reviving railway lines in Butere, Eldoret, Kitale and the Voi-Taveta line to increase cargo movement between Kenya and Tanzania through the Taveta-Holili border.

KRC refurbished the Nairobi-Nanyuki line where it is running two to three cargo trains.

Passenger operations have also started with two trains a week. The project will expand the Central Kenya economy, mainly in agriculture and tourism.

Mainga has given expensive contractors a wide berth, ensuring refurbishment of these railway lines is achieved at minimal cost.

For instance, for the Nairobi-Nanyuki line, the contractor had quoted Sh18 billion but was done with Sh1.8 billion.

The Kisumu route was quoted at Sh20 billion but KRC, using its internal engineers and local labour, is refurbishing it for about Sh3 billion.

Another success story for Mainga is the upgrading of the city railway system, modernisation of services and running the Diesel Multiple-Units trains.

KRC is operating five trains with six more expected from Spain in January.

This, together with the old trains, has changed the city’s transport system that for years experienced heavy road traffic and gridlock.

The corporation has also implemented a Bus Rapid Transit system offering last-mile connectivity to different parts of the city, including JKIA. It is served by an express train from the city centre.

Within a year, KRC has rehabilitated more than 800km of rail.

“By June 2021, we will have only a few linkages remaining, according to the master plan.

“I have almost fully integrated the rail network within the country that will spur economic growth and movement of people in a cheaper, efficient and safe way,” Mainga said.

Plans are also underway to develop a Railway City within Nairobi Station that will include government offices, parking silos, office blocks and commercial centres.

“We have a master plan,” Mainga said. “We have received about 60 bidders for the Railway City from both local and foreign investors.”

ASSET RECOVERY

Apart from project implementation, Mainga is leading a spirited fight to recover KRC assets worth billions.

Most of it is land was grabbed during past governments when railway operations went down.

With support from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the corporation has recovered more than 50 title deeds for vast parcels in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru.

It has recovered assets, including a building, worth more than Sh1 billion in Nairobi.

“We are taking back our assets that were neglected and grabbed. Those who illegally acquired these assets should know that we are coming for them,” Mainga warned.

While there is no journey without challenges, one of Mainga’s uphill tasks was taking back the metre gauge railway operations from Rift Valley Railways. He started the move when he was in charge of business and operations.

It saw KRC resume operations on the 100-year-old line, with all the workers from RVR transferred to the corporation.

“That was one of the biggest challenges,” Mainga said. “It was a government asset that was being mismanaged and misused and we had to get it back,” he said.

“It is one of the best things when I look back. I enjoy it because there is nothing like seeing a government asset being revived and bringing back employment and investments that were lost in different parts of this country.”

Meanwhile, KRC is growing export business at Lake Victoria. It is in charge of Kisumu port operations, under the Kenya Transport and Logistics Network that merges ports, pipeline and rail operations.

It operates its MV Uhuru with a capacity of  1.1 million litres of fuel, mainly diesel. The corporation is helping to increase oil exports, mainly to Uganda through the ports of Jinja and Port Bell.

Mainga is also overseeing the gradual taking over of SGR operations by Kenyans from the Chinese, expected to be completed in 2022.

A successful rail system remains a key driver of economic growth to double digits, Mainga said.

He attributes his success to support from President Uhuru Kenyatta) and the "very supportive" KRC board and staff.