Billed as the biggest project in Kenya since independence, the first phase of the Standard Gauge Railway is ready for operation, and is expected to be launched on May 31 by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The Chinese-funded project will in a big way ease movement of people and goods between Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa and the capital Nairobi. Ultimately, the rail is expected to go beyond Kenya’s borders into Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
The Mombasa-Nairobi phase of the project was built at cost of $3.8bn, with China Exim Bank providing 90% of the financing while the remaining 10% was contributed by the Kenyan Government.
The single-track standard gauge railway between Mombasa and Nairobi covers a route length of 472km and a total length of 609km.
While passengers currently spend more than 10 hours travelling between the two cities, the SGR trains will shorten that duration to about 4 – 5 hours.
Also, the cargo train will spend just about eight hours between Nairobi and Mombasa, unlike the trucks that spend more than two days between the two cities.
The railway line is designed to carry 22 million tonnes a year of cargo or a projected 40% of Mombasa Port throughput by 2035.
The passenger trains will travel at an average speed of 120km/h on the line, while the cargo trains will travel at an average speed of 80km/h.
During the launch of the SGR, President Uhuru will be joined by other high profile dignitaries including Chinese ambassador to Kenya Liu Xianfa, deputy president William Ruto, transport minister James Wainaina Macharia, among others.
The delegation is expected to take the inaugural train ride from Mombasa to Nairobi, thereafter opening the medium for public usage.
While laying the foundation stone for the project in 2013, Uhuru said, “The project will define my legacy as president of Kenya. What we are doing here today will most definitely transform… not only Kenya but the whole eastern African region.”