The history of rail transport in Kenya dates back to the period between 1891 and 1895 when raging debates ensued in the British parliament over the necessity of constructing a railway line through a country owned by the Maasai and unlettered African tribesmen.
It was at the dusk of the 19 century when work on the railway line began in 1896 and after several shaky wooden trestle bridges, unpredictable terrain, hostile tribes, prohibitive cost, disease infestations and man-eating lions later, work was completed in 1901 in a watershed moment at Port Florence which was later renamed Kisumu. The line had reached Nairobi in 1899, a solitary place then used by the Maasai community as a channel for grazing their cattle.
Fast forward to the year 2017 and Kenya is yet again undergoing the same experience of constructing a new railway line. The Standard Gauge Railway is the most talked about development in Kenya today. Construction on the line commenced in earnest in December, 2014 following the project’s launch in 2013.
The project which has been vilified and vindicated in equal and same measure is a magnificent engineering feat featuring 609 kilometres of rail line steadily fixed onto concrete sleepers and running for the better part on raised mounds of earth that will embrace the 4000 tonnes of weight stacked doubly against it.
Just like its predecessor, the Standard Gauge Railway, it is envisioned will come with basketful of benefits for the nation’s citizenry. Already during the construction phase, the line has lived up to this billing. Thousands of locals have been employed on the line making the SGR project one of the biggest employers in the country. The line also created a window of opportunity for business fraternity who supplied goods and services to the contractor and in turn reaped billions of shillings under the 40 per cent local content arrangement.
As Kenya Railways, China Road and Bridge Corporation and the construction supervision consortium draw closer to drawing the curtain on the Mombasa to Nairobi section, the burden of expectation amongst the nation’s citizenry in enormous. This is yet another watershed moment as the railway transport is set to be re-birthed in the country. It is anticipated that the line will be a huge logistical achievement whose multiplier effect should serve to propel this nation to greater economic heights and at the same time fast track regional integration.
All in all, it was pomp and joy at Port Reitz station as the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development presided over the reception for the newly delivered locomotives. The state of the art rolling stock is the first batch of a full fleet of locomotives, wagons and coaches that will define operations on the line in the very near future.
Just like the legendary steam engines of yore that graced the lunatic line in unwavering service to this nation, it is expected that the Standard Gauge Railway will excel in service to the nation. High speeds will be the hallmark of operations on the line as modern infrastructure is put under use.