With pride and excitement, Kenyans flocked to the capital on May 31 to watch President Uhuru Kenyatta inaugurate the first passenger train travelling on the new 472 km standard gauge track linking the port city of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean to the capital Nairobi.
The President boarded the train with its brand new diesel locomotive together with Kenyan and Chinese officials as well as joyful citizens.
The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) runs parallel to the railway built over 100 years ago by the British colonial power in order to transport wealth from Uganda to the coast. While travel time on the old line was 18 hours, it has been reduced to 4 hours for passenger trains and 8 hours for freight trains.
The Exim Bank of China provided 90% of the financing required for the €2.8 bn project, which was constructed by China Road and Bridge Corp. (Incidentally, the World Bank had refused in 2013 to fund the line.) The locomotives and wagons were built in China, but thanks to the 17,000 Kenyans working on the project, it was completed ahead of schedule.
The SGR is forecast to carry around 22 million tons of freight per year from Mombasa, representing 40% of the port’s throughput.
Such infrastructure projects have definite social benefits as well, such as the training of thousands of Kenyans who worked on the project, and will now be employed to run and service the line. The locomotive drivers all had several months of training in China, and among them, for the very first time, are eight women, all less than 27 years old!
Following up on the next phase of expansion of the SGR, neighboring Uganda has announced plans to begin building a $2.3 bn standard-gauge railway between its capital Kampala, and the Kenyan border town of Malaba later this year. The 273-km electrified track will be built by China Harbour Engineering and is due to be completed in the middle of 2020. Here again, the project is being funded by China’s Export-Import Bank.
Malaba is about 355 km northwest of Nairobi. During the recent Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, which he attended, President Kenyatta received a commitment from the Chinese to provide another $3.5 bn for prolonging the SGR to Malaba.
A video on the building of this railway was posted by News China TV.