Kenya Launches Railway to Boost Trade
Late 2013, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the launch of a railway project that could revolutionise transportation in East Africa. The railway is said to be Kenya’s biggest construction project for their half a century of independence, eventually extending all the way to Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
Construction for the first section of the standard gauge railway is meant to start shortly and will link Kenya’s port Mombasa to Malaba, a town on the border of Kenya and Uganda. It is thought that time it takes to travel between these two destinations will be cut from 15 hours to only four.
Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is due to have their section of the railway line finished in 2017. The line will then be extended to go through Uganda, branching off to DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.
The railway will cost about 1.2 trillion Kenyan shillings (£8.4 billion) overall, but China have agreed to fund the first 280 miles (450 km). This is due to a £3 billion deal agreed between President Kenyatta and Chinese President Xi Jinping that was signed in August. It is not clear exactly how much China will invest in the railway after the initial funding, but Kenya will be paying towards some of it too with their national budget and a new railway tax on imports.
The main purpose behind the railway construction is to relieve some of the congestion in Mombasa, which had become Africa’s busiest port. The line currently in place has been around since British colonial times in the 1920s and is badly in need of repair and upgrading. Kenya is also hoping that the new railway will boost trade and their economy.
Train speeds have already been agreed upon, with passenger trains allowed a maximum speed of 75 mph (120 km/h). When compared to travelling to the same destination by Kenya’s damaged roads caused by the sheer amount of traffic, journey time could be cut by as much as half. And because at the moment it isn’t safe to use the railway for cargo transportation, approximately 3,000 trucks a day, with heavy and large containers, leave Mombasa to go towards neighbouring countries. Michael Kamau, who is Kenya’s transport minister, estimated that one truck leaves every 30 seconds.
The new line means that heavier and larger cargo will be able to be transported via freight train, relieving the roads of some pressure. Freight trains will be able to travel up to 50 mph (80 km/h), and could cut a trip that normally takes 36 hours, to only eight. Railway planners also think this could cut cargo transportation costs by 60%.
Constructing the railway is one of the fore-running projects of President Kenyatta and his government, with the president saying in a statement: “The project will define my legacy as president of Kenya, and it is my personal desire that the implementation is done to the standard.”
At the ceremony to announce the launch of the railway project, President Kenyatta thanked the Chinese government for their involvement, and described the event as a “historic milestone” that would transform all of East Africa. “As a result,” he said, “East Africa will become a competitive investment destination.”
“We intend to make [the line] operational by 2018,” President Kenyatta added. “There is urgency, and we are committed to realising this dream.”