Kenya will become the first country in Africa to receive brand new long-distance passenger trains in February of this year. The five passenger locomotives are part of the 56 locomotives expected in the country prior to the launch of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) in June 2017, the other engines intended to pull freight trains.
The modern diesel-powered locomotives can run at a top speed of nearly 160 kilometres per hour shortening the travel time from the present nearly 14 hours to just 4 1/2 hours per journey. Kenya Railways will receive forty passenger coaches which will have varying capacities with the Economy Class accommodating 118 passengers in each coach and 72 passengers in the First-Class coaches.
The main passenger trains between the capital Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa will only have one stop enroute at Mtito Andei, a town marking the half way point of the route and gateway to both Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks. There have been suggestions however to also operate trains that stop at other waypoints, like Voi, about 100 miles from Mombasa, from where in particular tourists can start their safari into Tsavo East and into the Taita Hills Game Reserve.
‘These passenger locos will usher Kenya into in a new era: it is the backbone of our future long-distance transport system, linking up more and more, towns, cities and countries’ said Kenya Railways Managing Director, Atanas Maina before adding: ‘These passenger locomotives will cut down a twelve-hour journey from Nairobi to Mombasa to just over four hours. Furthermore, the line will result in significant cuts in journey times between Kenya, Uganda and eventually to Kigali, in Rwanda. With these passenger locomotives we are crossing technical and geographic borders. The powerful engine with nominal power of up to 3040 kW offers the traction that we need on the East African terrains’.
Apart from a modern interior, passengers in both First Class and Economy Class will enjoy air conditioning, Wi-Fi and catering facilities, among other comforts.
With just four and a half hours of traveling time – the railway of course still has to delivery on this target – the airlines will see a shift to trains by people who for one are looking at more affordable options to travel and those keen to avoid the intrusive checks before reaching the airport in Nairobi and boarding their planes. Given the traffic jams enroute to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport can the time from leaving a hotel or residence in Nairobi to touching down in Mombasa – a flight of normally about an hour – accumulate to as much as 4 hours. The central location of the main railway stations in both Nairobi and Mombasa will provide a great incentive for locals and tourists alike to switch to the trains instead.
At present the SGR Phase One of the project is in the completion stage of the ancillary works, which include slope protection and drainage systems along sections of the line and fencing of the key facilities in the stations. Already, the signaling, communication and electric works have been completed with the line testing exercise expected to commence in March, in preparation for official launch on June 1, 2017.
When completed, the modern high capacity Standard Gauge Railway will carry an estimated 1 million passengers per annum, with two pairs of trains operating every day. SGR will also run freight trains with 54 double stack flat wagons, carrying 216 TEUs per trip and a trailing load of 4,000 tonnes on each train, thus raising Kenya’s total economic production by at least 1.5 percent.
Kenya Railways however have, besides this undeniable accomplishment to have the railway between Mombasa and Nairobi constructed in record time, raised huge controversy and faces continued condemnation over plans to run the second leg of the railway to Naivasha through the Nairobi National Park, sacrificing Kenya’s conservation goals and accomplishments over the past 5 decades on the altar of so called progress.
Alternative routes bypassing the park which conservationists proposed, were shot down in flames over the added cost and notably did President Uhuru Kenyatta engage in public rants and outbursts against the conservation fraternity over legal cases brought against the decision to route the railway through the park, literally cutting it into half.