•Afristar, the operator of the Chinese-built SGR, said in a statement on Tuesday that it will add more wagons to the passenger services to meet growing demand.
•Cars, serving both economy and first-class passengers, will be added to trains running between Nairobi and Mombasa from April 19 to May 9.
Kenya’s 472-km Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) which was officially launched on May 31, 2017 is the single most expensive infrastructural project in Kenya’s history.
It was conceived by President Uhuru Kenyatta and President of the People's Republic of China, Xi Jinping when they jointly witnessed signing of the memorandum of understanding on financing the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR Project on August 19, 2013.
The SGR was highlighted as the first project in Kenya under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI was envisaged as a vehicle for achieving infrastructure, policy, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity to create new drivers of shared development. As years go by, the SGR is gaining popularity and sometimes falls short of demand.
Afristar, the operator of the Chinese-built SGR, said in a statement on Tuesday that it will add more wagons to the passenger services to meet growing demand. Cars, serving both economy and first class passengers, will be added to trains running between Nairobi and Mombasa from April 19 to May 9.
“We are pleased to announce that we will be adding more coaches from April 19th to May 9th to accommodate the increased number of passengers using the Nairobi-Mombasa SGR trains during school closures and openings,” the company said.
Demand for the passenger train service has increased since its inception. For example, during the last Easter holidays, trains were packed as Kenyans were looking for a comfortable, fast and affordable journey. Passenger traffic increased by 20.1 per cent in 2022, with trains carrying 2.39 million people over that period, up from 1.99 million in 2021, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). In 2018 SGR ferried.
Further, KNBS said the SGR ferried 1.67 million passengers in 2018, 699,055 passengers in 2017, 1.59 million passengers in 2019, and 1.29 million passengers in 2020. This massive movement of people using the modern rail service dubbed Madaraka Express is a display of increasing popularity of the SGR. The train has reduced travel time for passengers from Nairobi to Mombasa from an average of 10 hours to only six.
The building of the SGR was necessary. First, the old railway technology and system had become an outmoded meter gauge railway with low speeds, obsolete facilities, and low payload. This state of affairs was gradually hampering transportation of people and goods between the two most economically significant destinations in the country.
Alongside numerous other investments in key infrastructure projects (energy, roads, water) that drive investment, SGR is putting Kenya on the path to industrialization, especially in manufacturing and value addition. This will ultimately improve the country’s import/export ratio through Mombasa and Lamu ports.
The most immediate impact of SGR includes reliable and high capacity transport, reduced freight tariff, de-congested roads leading to savings in road maintenance, de-congested port, skills transfer and an increase in employment opportunities, directly and indirectly, through industries that are coming up along the railway line development.
The SGR is in line with the East African Railway Masterplan, which aims at rejuvenating existing railways serving Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, and extending them initially to Rwanda and Burundi, and eventually, to South Sudan, Ethiopia and beyond. SGR is also a Kenya Vision 2030 project, which places efficient transportation as a major enabler of both national and regional development.
Goods going to the EA hinterland countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi will be cheaper due to decreased transport costs and faster arrival to their destinations. It takes at least two days for trucks to reach Kampala from Mombasa, which could now take a day once the railway reaches Kisumu. It will also make integration of the EA Community a reality with the easy movement of people within the region.
SGR’s impact has also reached the “common man” in terms of being a cheap and efficient channel to do business. It has proved to the economic game changer it was touted to be at both the national and local levels. While benefiting Kenya in the short to long term, the East African region will also benefit economically from the new railway going forward. Goods going to the EA hinterland countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi will be cheaper due to decreased transport costs and faster arrival to their destinations. It will also make EAC integration a reality with the easy movement of people within the region.
Kenya’s Big Four programme that has left the signature legacy projects for President Kenyatta have enjoyed significant support from China as part of the previous FOCAC programs of cooperation between Kenya and China. The two countries will continue to cooperate on both bilateral and global issues including peace and security, health, climate change and blue and green technology transfer and circular economy.
Stephen Ndegwa is the executive director of South-South Dialogues, a Nairobi-based communications development think tank.