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June 21, 2018

Don't force us to use SGR, cargo handlers tell government

President Uhuru Kenyatta launches the Standard Gauge Railway cargo train at the Port of Mombasa, May 30, 2017. /MONICAH MWANGI
President Uhuru Kenyatta launches the Standard Gauge Railway cargo train at the Port of Mombasa, May 30, 2017. /MONICAH MWANGI

The government should not block the transportation of cargo by road as it pushes for the SGR, the Kenya Shippers Council (KSC) has said.

Transport Principal Secretary Joseph Kinyua issued a circular on March 7 requiring all government departments and agencies to use the Standard Gauge Railway to move cargo.

Read: Macharia gives directors 48 hours to ensure use of SGR freight services

Also read: Clearing agents up in arms with government over new directive

While giving his views o the order, KSC Chairman Gilbert Langat began by noting that the government is one of the biggest cargo movers as it handles about 40 per cent of the goods through through parastatals.

“There is a government clearing house which is a department under Treasury but its capacity has not been sufficient enough. That is why [transportation] was opened up to private cargo handlers,” Langat told The Star on Tuesday.

But he added: We receive an approximate 3,000 containerised cargo per day. The government can only handle around 15-16 per cent of the cargo, which translates to 324."

Langat further said the SGR should compliment other modes of transport instead of competing with them.

"The government should realise there are major users of the port and ensure efficiency," he said.

Langat gave his views on the directive alongside Willian Ojonyo, who is Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association (Kifwa) chairman.

Ojonyo said the order may be good music to Kenya Railways but may not have any legal backing.

He said cargo owners (consignees) will decide how best cargo will be transported and that surplus cargo will be transported by alternative means.

The official added: “The only reason the SGR is not popular is because we have chosen the narrow route of avoiding responsibility as cargo intervenors. This is along the logistics chain which includes Kenya Ports Authority, Kenya Revenue Authority and others. The only way to ensure cargo is atop the wagon is by ensuring efficiency by all parties."

But the Kifwa boss said the new railway must be appreciated and supported as it is a major investment.

He said it is " ... especially bearing in mind that in multi-modal transport, rail is the second cheapest after sea which should make it the preferred mode of transport against road and air."

Dock Workers Union Secretary General Simeon Sang said the issue was sensitive so stakeholders should come up with a common stand.

Sang was also of the view that the private sector should be allowed to choose the best mode of transport.

Read: High hopes for SGR cargo train services

In the circular, Kinyua also instructed that cargo moving between Mombasa and Nairobi by any other means including road, shall require written consent.

Early in February, KPA announced that 671 TEU containers were delivered upcountry by rail, an increase of 233.

Two weeks ago, KPA slashed container handling charges for a 20-foot local container at the inland container depot (ICD) in Embakasi to Sh8,160 ($80), from Sh10,506 ($103), in order to boost the uptake of cargo freight on the SGR.

With the directive, all equipment and materials for big public infrastructure projects will be expected to be transported on the SGR.

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