Kenya Railways Path To Regional Excellence Highlighted At Continental Workshop

Kenya Railways Path To Regional Excellence Highlighted At Continental Workshop
Kenya Railways Path To Regional Excellence Highlighted At Continental Workshop
Thuranira Kinagwi, Strategy and Research Department, Kenya Railways Corporation

Thuranira Kinagwi from the Kenya Railways Corporation’s Strategy and Research Department represented the Managing Director of Kenya Railways at the African Union Commission (AUC)’s Department of Infrastructure and Energy (IED) Continental Workshop. The workshop on the implementation of the Africa Integrated Railways Network (AIRN) took place from 7th to 10th May 2024 in Dar es Salaam.

Thuranira provided an overview of Kenya Railways’ recent activities and initiatives. Most of these initiatives are concentrated on the Northern Corridor, with future projects planned for the LAMU Corridor.

Kenya Railways operates as a state corporation, given a mandate by the government of Kenya. The primary responsibilities include developing national and metropolitan railway networks. Innovation is a key focus, with research and innovation being crucial for driving efficiency and effectiveness in operations. As an operator, infrastructure owner and regulator, Kenya Railways self-regulates to maintain high standards.

Due to its vertical integration, Kenya Railways focuses on developing skills and technology for the sector in Kenya and beyond, with the vision of becoming a Regional Excellence Centre through the Railway Training Institute based in Nairobi. Another priority – is growing the business’s land asset base. Kenya Railways is one of the largest commercial landowners in Kenya, providing a substantial foundation to leverage these assets for increased revenue streams.

Rail as an Economic Enabler

From a wider perspective, rail is seen as a crucial enabler for the economy of Kenya and the region. Rail transport addresses issues of trade facilitation, regional integration, promotion of trade and the sustainable socioeconomic development of the economy, both locally and regionally. Additionally, it benefits citizens and customers by reducing haulage costs and travel time.

Freight Services Performance

Kenya Railways operates two freight haulage services. The legacy system, known as the Meter Gauge Railway (MGR), has been in use for many years. In 2018, operations began on the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), running from Mombasa to Nairobi. This transition to the SGR represents a significant advancement in Kenya’s rail infrastructure, enhancing the efficiency and capacity of freight transportation.

Kenya Railways has made significant strides in its freight haulage performance. In 2018 and 2019, port throughput stood at 20%, though this was an anomaly due to the financial year starting in January instead of the usual July to June. In 2019-2020, port throughput decreased to 18%. Since then, there has been a gradual increase in performance.

Freight haulage on the SGR has shown steady growth: from 4 million tonnes in 2019-2020, to 5 million tonnes, then 5.6 million tonnes, and reaching 6.3 million tonnes. The Meter Gauge Railway (MGR) has also seen improvements, attributable to extensive deferred maintenance and rehabilitation efforts.

As of the 2022-2023 financial year, Kenya Railways achieved 26% of port throughput at Mombasa Port, the current site for evacuation. The corporation has set ambitious growth targets, aiming to increase port throughput to 34% this financial year and 42% by the end of the strategic planning period. This would result in approximately 12.5 million tonnes, or 42% of port throughput.

In terms of passenger services, the SGR long-distance service between Mombasa and Nairobi has seen steady growth despite the impact of COVID-19 during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 periods. By 2022-2023, the service transported 2.5 million passengers for the year.

Kenya Railways Initiatives

Most initiatives are focused along the Northern Corridor, including plans to extend the SGR. Currently, operations are running smoothly on the completed Mombasa to Nairobi segment and the 120 kilometres from Nairobi to Naivasha, which includes an internal container depot.

The Meter Gauge Railway (MGR) network had suffered from extensive deferred maintenance. Significant rehabilitation and construction works have been undertaken to address these issues. One notable project is the link connecting the SGR in Naivasha to the MGR Longonot station. Additionally, efforts have been made to enhance branch lines to better feed the main MGR network.

  • Rehabilitation of 456 km Longonot–Malaba section
  • Construction of 23.7 km of MGR line linking SGR and MGR in Longonot
  • Rehabilitation of branch lines:
    • Nakuru–Kisumu line (216.7 km)
    • Gilgil–Nyahururu branch (78 km)
    • Leseru–Kitale Line (65 km)
    • Kisumu–Butere Line (69 km)
    • Thika–Nanyuki Line (177 km)

In terms of inland waterways, it has been noted that water transport can be almost 50% cheaper. To capitalise on this, Kenya Railways has initiated the rehabilitation of the Kisumu Port and operationalised the MV Uhuru, an existing ferry wagon now back in service.

A cargo handling facility has also been constructed in Malaba to ensure connectivity with Uganda, facilitating access to transit cargo. Access roads have been improved for the SGR and certain sections of the MGR. Ongoing initiatives include the rehabilitation of:

  • Longonot–Malaba MGR Section – Phase II
  • Mombasa–Konza MGR Section (456 km) and the Nairobi (Kikuyu)–Longonot MGR Section (57 km).

Further expanding its inland waterway initiatives, Kenya Railways has constructed another wagon ferry, MV Uhuru 2, which is awaiting commissioning in this financial year. These efforts are part of a broader strategy to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of Kenya’s rail and water transport infrastructure.

Urban Mobility

For urban mobility, the SGR currently terminates at Miritini in Mombasa. Efforts are underway to improve the last and first mile connectivity for passengers travelling to the island section of Mombasa through a proposed commuter link. This connection, known as the Miritini-MGR Station commuter link, is being developed to facilitate seamless travel for passengers.

Kenya Planned Projects

The East African Community (EAC) has noted that from both a Kenyan and regional perspective, the completion of the SGR line from Naivasha onwards is of critical importance. This project includes the construction of the 369 km Naivasha–Malaba SGR line and a new port in Kisumu. Kenya is actively seeking funding for this project and is working jointly with Uganda and the DRC to explore joint funding options. As a regional project, it is expected to handle significant transit cargo, making it one of the most critical projects requiring funding from a Kenyan perspective.

Kenya Railways is also planning a cold chain logistics corridor from Naivasha to Mombasa. Naivasha is a major hub for horticulture, particularly for flowers and vegetables exported to Europe. There has been a growing initiative, especially from Europe, to shift from air freight to rail and ship for these exports. To support this modal shift, Kenya Railways is in the planning stages of developing this cold chain logistics corridor, which will enhance the efficiency and sustainability of transporting perishable goods.

From a railway perspective, Kenya Railways is planning to acquire wagons equipped with plug-in capabilities for reefer containers. This will enable the transportation of perishable produce from Naivasha to Mombasa Port, where the containers can be plugged into vessels for continued refrigeration during shipment. This initiative supports the modal shift from air freight to rail and ship for perishable goods, particularly horticultural products destined for Europe.

Regarding the Lamu Corridor, Kenya Railways is in the early stages of development. While an earlier feasibility study was conducted, a joint feasibility study with Ethiopia is now being coordinated by the LAPSSET Corridor Development Authority. Progress is anticipated as these studies advance. The Lamu Corridor project is a greenfield initiative that is highly attractive option for green financing, presenting significant opportunities for investment.

Commuter Rail

Kenya Railways is actively involved in urban mobility, operating a daily commuter service on weekdays. In 2017, a commuter master plan was completed, identifying five major corridors for development. These corridors include Line 1 (Limuru) and Line 2 (Ruiru), among others.

The commuter network is based on the Meter Gauge Railway (MGR) system, which has suffered from a lack of maintenance and requires upgrades and rehabilitation. Currently, two key projects are underway to rehabilitate and enhance the commuter network. Line 2, which runs from Nairobi Central Station to Ruiru. Kenya Railways is working with the World Bank to rehabilitate this corridor to improve commuter passenger services.

From a sustainability perspective, Kenya Railways is focused on incorporating innovation and decarbonisation. For motive power, the feasibility stage includes exploring battery-electric multiple units or electric multiple units. The goal is to operate green equipment on this line. Other innovations include transit-oriented developments and land value capture, aligning with Kenya Railways’ commitment to innovation.

Additionally, Line 3, running from Nairobi to Embakasi Village, has attracted financing from the French government through AFD. Similar to Line 2, this project will focus on green motive power and will rehabilitate the track and signalling systems to enhance passenger capacity.

There are three other corridors identified in the master plan, presenting further investment opportunities in urban mobility. Kenya Railways invites potential investors to explore these opportunities to collaborate on enhancing urban mobility in Kenya.

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