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Plans for new Kenyan railway on course

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 16 – The development of a new standard gauge rail line in the country is on course, despite the wrangles that are going on in the Rift Valley Railways (RVR), the government has assured.

Transport Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere said although the RVR concessionaire agreement initially prohibited the Kenyan and Ugandan governments from constructing a standard gauge line, the clause was re-negotiated last year.

The agreement stipulated that the two governments could not construct a railway line 35 kilometers on either side of the existing one.

“That condition was a problem and we could not confidently talk of constructing a standard gauge railway line from Mombasa and other inland destinations to Kampala and beyond,” the minister admitted adding that the problem was eventually resolved and it was decided that “the two governments may construct a railway line at any point with no restrictions on the distance.”

Disagreements about the shareholding structure of the Kenya-Uganda Railway concessionaire have been common since the contract was signed in November 2006 and have further derailed the turnaround of the rail system in the two countries.

If the boardroom politics in RVR persist, the concessionaire will be the loser as it will face stiff competition when the modern line is ready for use.

The line’s construction was scheduled to start in June last year after the government pledged to fast track the signing of the bi-lateral agreement with Uganda to ensure that the new line becomes operational in the next two to three years.

Mr Mwakwere however expressed confidence that the system’s development – which would go a long way in enabling the East African region greatly reduce its transportation costs – was on schedule.

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“We’ve made tremendous progress. You’ve all seen the advertisement for companies to give their express of interest in accordance with the procurement regulations. That was done three months ago and they are now evaluating the bids,” he said.

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He disclosed that the government had received invitations from firms that had volunteered to conduct the feasibility study and design at their own cost. He did not however indicate whether they have given such firms the go-ahead to do so.

The government has been on the lookout for a private partner to help it raise the Sh196 billion it requires to fund the new railway whose total construction costs are estimated at Sh300 billion.

Mr Mwakwere said upon completion, the line will initially be diesel-electric powered but this would be switched to a fully electric line once the country’s energy capacity and supply is reliable.

“When we are self sufficient in electricity, then we will be in a position to convert the line to be electric so that it becomes faster and more reliable,” he said.

The line will also extend from Kampala to the north past Gulu and into Southern Sudan and to Kigali, Rwanda and Bujumbura to the West.

Tanzania is said to be constructing another line from Dar es Salaam to the shores of Lake Victoria which will complement each other and provide alternative routes for business people operating within the region.

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