RAILWAY PROJECT

First hand experience through the completed section of SGR 2A

In Summary

• At some distance, zebras could be seen crossing below the bridge.

• Kenya Railways say it is working with road agencies to provide road linkages.

Inside Nachu tunnel on the SGR route to Naivasha.
Inside Nachu tunnel on the SGR route to Naivasha.
Image: COURTESY

A mere mention of Narok and Kajiado Counties evokes images of vast plains of sand and huge rocks calling for attention, interspersed with small mountains of various sizes and heights, with poor road networks, if any, and scattered houses.

The two counties which are classified as arid and semi-arid and are often grazing ground for pastoralists.

Huge herds of cattle, sheep and goats browsing for food characterize the area.

This description will, however, be reversed with the anticipated completion of the second phase of the Standard Gauge Railway Line.

The line set to cost Sh 150 billion is now 90 per cent complete.

Phase 2A to Naivasha passes through the five counties of Nairobi, Kajiado, Kiambu, Nakuru and Narok.

It features five newly-built stations at Ongata Rongai, Ngong, Mai Mahiu, Suswa and Nachu.

We started the journey through these vast plains from the Nairobi National Park on a fact-finding mission.

At the Park, there are huge pillars rising eight metres at the entrance into the park and tallest at 41 metres at the exit of the park.

The path has a viaduct that cuts through the middle of the park for six kilometres, dividing it into two almost equal portions.

Conservationists had vehemently rejected plans to have the project traverse through the park the move will be the end to the park.

Covering just 12,000 hectares, the park is the world's only national park within a city.

The park has wide open grass plains and a backdrop of the city scrapers, scattered acacia bush play that host a wide variety of wildlife.

Spectacular wildlife at the park includes the endangered black rhino, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, buffaloes, giraffes and diverse birdlife with over 400 species recorded. 

Already, the contractor-China Communications Construction Company- has put up noise deflectors as had been instructed by authorities the following push and pull between them and conservationists.

At some distance, zebras could be seen crossing below the bridge.

Within minutes, a handful of antelopes too followed in quick succession.

Other wildlife however kept away even as they ponder what the huge bridge portends to them in the near future.

As the trip progresses air becomes so hot making the sun feel even closer.

At the top of the bridge, some workers are seen putting up the final touches on the line.

“We had to put up a fence to keep off wildlife from coming into contact with workers,” SGR project manager Eng. Maxwell Mengich says as he stares at the open skies.

At the Nairobi National Park, rails have been laid.

Mengich says everything is being done to protect parks’ fauna and flora.

“The contractor has been directed to restore the park to its natural state, that is set to be done,” he says.

Conservationists have however been warning that the line is likely to introduce invasive species.

Invasive species according to the National Wildlife Federation—they may not sound very threatening, but large and small, have devastating effects on wildlife.

The federation says invasive species are among the leading threats to native wildlife. It says that approximately 42 per cent of threatened or endangered species are at risk due to invasive species.

Human health and economies are also at risk from invasive species.

The federation says the impacts of invasive species on natural ecosystems and economy cost billions of dollars each year.

It says many of commercial, agricultural, and recreational activities depend on healthy native ecosystems.

Towards the end of the park are young men and women going about their work undeterred by our presence.

In some places, Kenya railways say it is working with road agencies to provide road linkages.

The project will deliver efficient railway network transport for both passengers and goods catering for the transport demand on the corridor.
Kenya Railways acting MD Philip Mainga

Compensation

In other places, however, not much seems to be happening as locals have not been compensated.

However, Kenya Railways acting MD Philip Mainga exudes confidence that the construction of the second phase will be completed by May 31.

He says the construction is 90 per cent complete.

He, however, said that some 5.1 kilometres out of the 120 kilometres have not been touched as landowners have not been compensated.

“Areas such as Ongata Rongai and Ngong are densely populated. This means that there are many persons affected by the project,” Mainga says.

Mainga says out of 1,708 persons affected by the project, 50 per cent have been compensated.

The MD says the compensation cost is projected to hit Sh17 billion which is outside the total project cost. To date, Sh 10.2 billion has been paid for compensation. This means at least Sh 7 billion is yet to be paid as compensation.

Mainga says his organisation expects the government through the National Land Commission secretariat to hasten the payments.

He warned that should payments delay, the project risk missing the dateline of May 31.

The project entails 28 bridges on the main line, including six supermajor bridges, 16 major bridges and six medium bridges.

Most of the stations are almost complete.

Tunnels

Some minutes to noon, we board two SGR trolleys in readiness to traverse the ready line from Ngong to Suswa.

Embul-Bulbul tunnel covers 4.5km was launched for construction by President Uhuru Kenyatta October 2016.

Travelling at an average speed of 120 kilometres per hour, the trolley first hoots to alert those who might be in the line of impending danger.

So loud is the hoot that it can be heard kilometres away.

It then starts moving at a slow pace before picking up.

Within at least some minutes, the trolley hoot repeatedly before it snakes its way out of the tunnel.

The hooting signifies that it is almost out of the tunnel.

Inside the tunnel that meanders its way like a snake are lights meant to allow the navigate see ahead. The trolley too has its lights on.

Along the valleys, young boys could be seen looking after their livestock as they gaze at the trolley.

They momentarily forget about the hot rays of the sun that repeatedly smile at them.

The boys and old men are clad in their traditional shukas. This is despite the fact that education, civilization and western culture has influenced many people across the globe.

They have clung to their traditional way of life.

Within some minutes, we enter the 1 km in Kimuka-Kajiado tunnel before finishing off with another 1.7 km tunnel in Nachu-Kiambu.

At Mai Mahiu station, our attention is quickly taken by the beehive of activities taking place. The station has locomotive maintenance shed, minor freight area and staff units.

The Ongata, Ngong, Mai Mahiu, Suswa stations are all intermediary stations. This means the four have the capacity to handle both cargo and passengers.

Nachu is a passing station, where trains from opposite directions can pass each other.

The Ngong Tunnnel during construction.
The Ngong Tunnnel during construction.

Game changer

Mainga says the project is set to be a game changer.

The acting MD says 2.5 million passengers have been ferried in just two years, showing the potential SGR has in future.

Mainga says the line will also help decongest the port of Mombasa, at the inland container terminal resulting in high freight volumes transported to and from the port.

“In one year alone, we have moved four million tonnes through the port of Mombasa. We now have 10 trains,” he says.

The acting MD adds that the project is set to create 30,000 jobs. So far, he says, 20,000 workers have been employed.

The project at the Clarence Matheny Leadership Training Institute which is based in Ongata Rongai has stalled over compensation row.

Initial estimates valued the land where the church stands to be at Sh 600 million.

Mengich says penetrating Em-Bulbul and Mai Mahiu was difficult due to steepness and the kind of soil.

Some houses too were affected due to vibration.