TRANSPORT INFRASTRUCTURE

Ignore the critics, Suswa SGR is a railway to somewhere

This train will offer great convenience to passengers travelling to and from Mombasa, who would prefer to go straight to Ongata Rongai and Ngong, without stopping in the Nairobi CBD.

In Summary

• Whereas critics have christened this phase of the SGR as “a railroad to nowhere”, the benefits that will accrue from it cannot be overstated.

• The railway line is set to play a huge role in the decongestion of the port of Mombasa as the increased capacity of transport infrastructure will meet the existing transport demand at the port.

President Uhuru Kenyatta flags off the inaugural Nairobi-Suswa SGR trip on Wednesday, October, 16, 2019.
President Uhuru Kenyatta flags off the inaugural Nairobi-Suswa SGR trip on Wednesday, October, 16, 2019.
Image: DOUGLAS OKIDDY

Last week, Kenya and the East African region witnessed a historic occasion as President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the next phase of the standard gauge railway  in Suswa.

This launch was part of the Kenya Railways Master Plan that sets to transform the national and regional network with a view to providing efficient, safe and reliable rail transport.

Whereas critics have christened this phase of the SGR as “a railroad to nowhere”, the benefits that will accrue from it cannot be overstated. For starters, this will be an efficient railway network catering for increased demand for passenger and cargo transport along the northern corridor, besides addressing traffic congestion within the urban and peri-urban areas.

Second, the railway line will play a huge role in the decongestion of the port of Mombasa as the increased capacity of transport infrastructure will meet the existing transport demand at the port.

The region is also set to become a competitive investment destination as the SGR will lead to higher speeds, reducing transit times between destinations, and consequently, lower costs of production. Additionally, better access to markets will aid the exploitation of resources.

Finally, the railway will ensure seamless connectivity that will enhance regional integration, reduce carbon emissions and wear and tear of roads, thus lower maintenance costs. 

During the launch of the Nairobi-Suswa SGR section, the President also presided over the groundbreaking of the Sh 6.9 billion Naivasha Inland Container Depot. This will address the congestion at Mlolongo and the Embakasi ICD. Besides revolutionising transport in the Rift Valley and stimulating tourism, the SGR will lead to the creation of a Special Economic Zone as a number of East African Community member states have shown interest in investing in the dry port.

Kenya Railways must be commended for introducing passenger trains from Nairobi South station to Suswa, targeting tourists and locals travelling to and from Western Kenya, Nyanza and lower parts of the Rift Valley.

The operator has also introduced a commuter service to be operated from Ngong to Nairobi South station via Ongata Rongai. This train will offer great convenience to passengers travelling to and from Mombasa, who would prefer to go straight to Ongata Rongai and Ngong, without stopping in the Nairobi CBD. It also targets residents from Ngong, Rongai and its environs working in Machakos, Industrial Area and the Nairobi CBD.

To ensure a seamless connection, four train schedules have been introduced. Train 1 departs Ngong at 05:40 am and arrives at Nairobi South terminus at 06:19am, with a stop-over in Ongata Rongai at 05:53am. Commuters then connect with the MGR train from Nairobi South terminus at 06:35am, arriving in Nairobi at 07:15am.

Train 2 departs Ngong at midday, arriving at Nairobi South terminus at 12:40pm, with a stop-over in Rongai at 12:14pm. 

Train 3 departs Ngong at 16:30pm, arrives in Rongai at 16:35pm then Nairobi South terminus at 16:55pm to connect the MGR train from Nairobi CBD, which departs at 17:30pm to arrive at Nairobi South terminus at 18:40pm, then Ngong at 19: 05pm.

Train 4 departs Ngong at 19:15pm, arriving at Nairobi South terminus at 19:35pm and connects passengers from the Mombasa-Nairobi train to Ngong via Ongata Rongai at 20.30pm.

But the concerns raised by critics and residents of the four towns through which the train passes cannot be wished away. During the launch, Transport and Infrastructure CS James Macharia assured residents the issues of last-mile connectivity are being addressed to ensure commuters have easy access to the train stations.

However, for the project to succeed, the government still needs to regularly engage the communities and expedite the completion of paved roads linking the towns to the train stations.

While critics have opined that the SGR fares are higher than those charged by matatus, a comparison shows the reverse is true. For instance, matatus charge Sh150 from Ngong to the CBD during peak and Sh80 during off-peak hours.

The SGR train, on the other hand, charges a flat fare of Sh70 and Sh50 for connecting through the MGR to the Nairobi CBD. From Ongata Rongai, matatus charge Sh100 to the CBD during peak and Sh70 on off-peak hours, while the SGR train will charge Sh50 and another Sh50 to connect through the MGR to the Nairobi CBD.

From the above observation, SGR fares are still lower than those charged by matatus. Add these to the inconvenience of traffic jams witnessed on our roads, SGR trains remain affordable and convenient.

The writer is a communications adviser for Madaraka Express