NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 1 – Kenya-Uganda railway concessionaire Rift Valley Railways (RVR) plans to replace 70 kilometres of the century old main railway line from Mombasa to Kampala as part of its efforts to improve the line’s efficiency.,
RVR Executive Chairman Brown Ondego disclosed on Wednesday that they will spend approximately Sh1.9 billion ($23 million) to rehabilitate the worn out rails between Nairobi and Mombasa which are responsible for many of the accidents on the route.
“We have already ordered the 70 kilometres of rail; the first batch will arrive in May and by June, we will have done about 13 kilometres and then we will scale it up,” he revealed adding that the entire project would take between 12 and 15 months.
Upon completion, they expect the line to operate at speeds of 70 kilometres per hour up from the current 25 to 30 kilometres per hour thus significantly reducing the trains’ travel hours.
In addition, RVR is also looking to refurbish nine collapsing culverts between Tororo and Jinja sections which make it hard for the firm to achieve the seamless service that they envisage between Kenya and Uganda.
“In the next 12 months, we plan to overhaul about 13 locomotives in a reliability program aimed at ensuring that they stop derailing,” he emphasised.
The funding is part of the disbursed Sh4 billion ($49 million) which is the first tranche of the $164 million loan approved by the Development Funding Institutions in August 2011 to help rehabilitate the infrastructure and turn around the rail service.
“Once we have done these culverts, the train will go from Mombasa then to Eldoret and then go all the way to Jinja carrying about 1,300 tonnes (of cargo) and later when the rail improves, we will operate trains of 2,000 tonnes,” Ondego added.
A lot of headways has been achieved he said despite the challenges that they have achieved since the concession agreement was signed in 2006.
In the 2010/2011 financial year, tonnage increased by eight percent to 1.6 million tonnes while accidents reduced by 45 percent to 28; a feat attributed to the improved operational planning and retraining of drivers.
Ondego exuded confidence in their future outlook citing the concessionaire’s guaranteed funding base as well as the expertise they are gaining from the new look management team which includes rail experts from Brazilian’s América Latina Logística with whom RVR has a technical and management agreement.
As part of synchronising the infrastructure, RVR is also planning to upgrade its IT system from the current paper-based operation so as to increase their safety and productivity.
The automation of its training planning systems will see the installation of a new control centre that can manage trains via the GPS system in the next one and a half years in line with international best standards.
With all these features in place, RVR will now focus on capturing a bigger market share particularly in the freight service.
Currently, RVR’s freight business only accounts for about 10 percent of the Port of Mombasa’s total output (19 million tonnes) but there are plans to grow this by at least 20 percent every year.
Their target of moving 4.5 million tonnes per year until 2015 would be achieved by harnessing the potential in the container and bulk business, the concessionaire said.