NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 28 – Fifteen years after the last Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) commuter train ventured into Western Kenya, residents of the region will enjoy the once famous ride to the region after rehabilitation of the railway.
The century-old rail route came alive on Saturday when a newly refurbished train made the journey from Nakuru amid cheers from residents many towns along its path.
Children waved and run alongside the train, mesmerized by the colossal machine that they had only heard of. Startled livestock scampered for safety at the sound of the locomotive’s horns while adults stared and took out their phones to capture the historic moment.
Onboard the train during the test ride were Kenya Railways officials, parliamentarians from the National Assembly’s Finance and National Planning Committee, security personnel and a battery of journalists.
After traversing the highland stations of Mau summit, Londiani, Kedowa, Kipkellion, Tunnel and Fort Ternan the train raced past the sugar rich lowland stations of Koru, Muhoroni, Chemelil, Kibigori, Miwani and Kibos arriving at the newly constructed Kisumu passenger terminal ahead of schedule.
Rehabilitated at cost of Sh2.8 billion, the 216-kilometre, century old Metre Gauge Railway (MGR) is expected to change the fortunes of many towns along its path.
Kenya Railways Corporation Managing Director Phillip Mainga expressed confidence that the railway will commence operations once trials were over and the line commissioned.
“We have a few logistics that we are taking care of and by December we shall have our first passengers. We also expect to ferry cargo for some of the companies alongside the line and there is huge potential for agricultural products,” he said.
KRC embarked on a renovation exercise for the line its 18 stations along the line which had been in a sorry state after vandals had stripped valuables and made away with parts such as sleepers, nuts, and clips, while land grabbers had encroached on the corporation’s land and buildings.
“First we had to locate the railway line as most of it had been covered by siltation and landslides , more than 5 kilometres of the line had been stolen. We had to rebuild culverts for drainage, rehabilitate 27 viaducts and re-ballast the line to create stability and buoyancy along the line, ” Mainga said.
Rehabilitation works on the line were done by Kenya railways engineers, Kenya Defense Forces personnel, National Youth Service personnel and casual laborers drawn from local communities drastically reducing costs.
Passengers will have the option of travelling with the Standard Gauge rail (SGR) line from Mombasa or Nairobi before switching to the rehabilitated Metre Gauge Railway line at Mai Mahiu before heading on West, a process the railways boss says will be seamless.
Kenya Railways has established a new Railway Station at Longonot that will be connected to Mai Mahiu SGR Station and Naivasha Inland Container Depot by a 24-kilometer long Meter Gauge Railway line.
The Inland Container Terminal Depot at Naivasha will help reduce on the strain from the Nairobi ICD with goods headed to Western region and neighboring countries such as Uganda and Burundi being processed there.
National Assembly’s Finance and National Planning Committee member and Kisumu East MP Shakeel Shabbir lauded the railways corporation adding that the line will spur economic growth and create employment in Kisumu.
“Like the Phoenix, this railway line has come back from the ashes and reignited great expectations for Kisumu. We are going to have goods and passengers going all the way to the coast at a fraction of the cost and we are going to reduce road carnage,” Shabbir said adding; “This railway is the spine for Western Kenya.”
Other National Assembly committee members on the test ride to Kisumu included Mohamud Sheikh (Wajir South), Peter Lochakapong ( Sigor), James Gichuhi (Tetu) and Edith Nyenze (Kitui West).
The Kenyan government has targeted the rail transport system as it seeks to boost freight and passenger services in the country by building new link lines and rehabilitation of the country’s aging metre-gauge railway network.