The East Africa rail network which links Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania got a major boost on Wednesday with the launch of the 3.8 billion dollar Chinese built Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) Mombasa to Nairobi line in a drive to revolutionize its transportation sector and speed up industrialization.
The new railway, known as the Kenyan SGR, started cargo and passenger services in ceremonies attended by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Chinese State Councilor Wang Yong, the special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The 480-km SGR stretches from the port of Mombasa to Kenya’s capital Nairobi, involving a total investment of 3.8 billion U.S. dollars, which makes it Kenya’s largest infrastructure project since its independence.
The 480 km 3.8-billion-U.S.-dollar Mombasa-Nairobi SGR was constructed by the China Road and Bridge Corporation, with 90 percent of the funding coming from China.
Construction of the railway began in December 2014 with China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) being the contractor.
The designed speeds for passenger trains on the SGR line are 120 km/h and 80 km/h for freight trains.
The SGR line runs largely in parallel with the Nairobi-Mombasa sections of the meter-gauge railway built between 1986 and 1901 during the colonial era.
The Kenyan government has anticipated the SGR to boost Kenya’s GDP by 1.5 percentage points annually, promote industrialization and bring in investment along the route by reducing the cost of transportation.
The Mombasa-Nairobi SGR is the first step in the grand plan to build an East Africa railway network that will eventually link Kenya with Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. An extension of the Nairobi-Mombasa line, the Nairobi-Naivasha SGR, has already begun construction.
About 120 km of the SGR run through Kenya’s Tsavo National Park. The line features 14 wildlife channels to facilitate migration of wildlife in the areas.
The SGR project has created more than 46,000 jobs for locals and the number of local workers who received training has hit 45,000.
Leaders of the region have attached great importance to the construction of standard gauge rail lines as part of the Northern Corridor, which links Kenya with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, and the Central Corridor, which starts from Tanzania, through Rwanda and then lead to Burundi, to reduce the cost of doing business, the cost of movement of people and goods.
Much has been done to advance east African integration, with the removal of non-tariff barriers, cutting the time needed for cargo shipment from Mombasa to Kigali from the original 21 days to about five days. The facilitation of free movement of people, including easier access to work permits and the introduction of common visas, the removal of voice and data roaming fees, and the harmonization of the electricity grid all helped consolidate the integration.