, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 13 – The impending extension of the iconic Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) track from Nairobi to Naivasha has warmed up the hearts of major tourism industry stakeholders, particularly at the Kenyan Coast.
There is growing optimism that Kenya will become more attractive and competitive as a destination since tourists will move faster and cheaply across the country.
The SGR train service is seen as a crucial link for enthusiasts of beach and safari tourist packages as it connects the coastal beaches to the Great Rift Valley tourism circuit in just five hours, offering an excellent option to flying.
The first passenger train on the Sh327 billion Nairobi–Mombasa line is scheduled to roll on from the Kenyan coast on June 1, next year.
Each train will have a capacity of 1,096 passengers and will cruise at a speed of 120 km per hour.
The Nairobi-Naivasha extension, dubbed phase 2A line, will be launched next week.
Sam Ikwaye, the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers coast branch executive officer, says the extension of the SGR line to the Naivasha tourist hub will be a big boost to the industry considering the lower cost of travel and easy connectivity.
“The SGR will seamlessly link beach and safari tourism in the country and make the products exciting for local and international tourists. This will complete the holiday cycle since they will have the chance to enjoy beach and wildlife products,” he explains.
Ikwaye says the SGR will offer a fast mode of transport and a welcome option to air travel which comes with high costs and at times long delays before one can catch a flight. Currently, he notes, it costs a tourist between Sh15,000 and Sh18,000 to connect the coastal and Rift Valley circuits by air, posing a challenge to many.
Kenya Coast Tourist Association executive officer Millicent Odhiambo concurs. “Air travel is costly and not affordable to some holidaymakers. The advent of SGR passenger trains will make Kenya as a destination more attractive and open it up for more local and international tourists,” she states.
Local holidaymakers, Odhiambo argues, will be able to spend the weekend at the coast, comfortably travel upcountry in just a few hours and catch up with routine work or business on Monday morning. The CEO says Naivasha will effectively compete with the coast and Nairobi as a conference tourism hub.
Construction on the Nairobi-Naivasha extension dubbed phase 2A line, which will connect special economic zones upcountry with the port of Mombasa, is set to commence in the first quarter of 2017.It is part of the wider East African railway network connecting Mombasa, Kampala, Kigali and Juba.
Binti Omar, the Mombasa county executive for Tourism, expects the SGR to revolutionize Kenya’s tourism.
“Tourists will savour scenic sites in comfort when the SGR trains are introduced. The trains will provide a unique experience from road and air travel and hence make our destination popular to tourists,” Omar noted.
She observed that speedy train journeys will offer excellent moments for honeymooners out to explore wildlife across the parks and savannahs as well as beaches at the Coast as one package.
While tourism stakeholders are crossing their fingers over the SGR tariffs that are yet to be announced, they generally expect the rates to be much lower compared to air travel.
The Nairobi-Naivasha line will run from West end of the Nairobi South hub through the Nairobi national park all the way to the proposed industrial parks in Mai Mahiu and Suswa.
The industrial parks will be built in Naivasha in Nakuru County and also in Narok County leveraged on development of geothermal energy.
Kenya Railway Corporation (KR) Managing Director Atanas Maina says the high capacity railway line will be completed one year ahead of schedule, adding that Government will start the importation of 60 locomotive engines, 1,620 wagons and 40 passenger coaches by end of this year in preparation for the launch of the operations mid next year.
“The track will undergo test runs in March next year and commercial operations will begin in June when one train will be pulling a record 200 containers between the port of Mombasa and Embakasi Inland Container Depot in Nairobi,” he states.
Maina said as the Government’s implementing agency for the SGR, KRC is keen to ensure that the project is completed on time and in accordance with the contractual specifications.
According to KR, the SGR line will pass through raised bridges in the Tsavo and Nairobi national parks to ensure smooth flow of wildlife.
KRC said the modified savannah route was considered most viable after a rigorous social economic review.
In addition to installation of noise deflectors to minimize noise from trains, the bridge pillar foundations in the national parks are sunk in the ground to reduce vibrations during the operation of the modern trains.