Kenya Railways: Restoring Kenya’s Rail Transport System
When Philip Mainga took over officially as Kenya Railways’ Managing Director in February 2020, it set him on an ambitious mission to amalgamate the Standard Gauge Railway operations and bring back to life the country’s Metre Gauge Railway network. Boasting of a wealth of experience having been General Manager for Business Operations at the institution, Mr. Mainga took on his new role that has seen the corporation bounce back to grandeur as Corporate Watch Magazine’s Ker Mogallo narrates.
Having been part and parcel of the process that saw the construction and operations of the first phase of the Standard Gauge Railway in the year 2017 and freight services in 2018, Mr. Philip Mainga, EBS – the Kenya Railways Managing Director is the face of success at the corporation.
He has seen off the Standard Gauge Railway popularly known as SGR, revitalized and expanded the country’s dormant railway network as well as revamping the Nairobi Commuter Rail system which serves the capital city and its environs. Mr. Mainga, a results-oriented leader with over 20 years of experience in Railway Operations has a track record of performance and turnaround.
“I took over as MD at a point when construction of SGR Phase 2A, Nairobi to Naivasha had just kicked off putting me at the fore front to oversee the commencement of operations for both passenger and freight services to the Suswa Station and the Naivasha Inland Container Depot,” Mr. Mainga narrates to the Corporate Watch Magazine.
His focus then shifted to the restoration of the country’s old railway operations that had remained inactive for over twenty years.
The revitalization works include the rehabilitation of the old railway line between Naivasha and Malaba, as well as linking it with the Standard Gauge Railway. This has since guaranteed a seamless rail system for both passengers and cargo between Mombasa and Malaba.
The construction and commissioning of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) Phase 2A to Naivasha geared towards opening of Special Economic Zones in support of the manufacturing pillar under the Big Four Agenda.
Supervision of the refitting of Mv- Uhuru 1, a wagon ferry owned by Kenya Railways which had been lying unattended for 11 years and the construction of the Meter Gauge Railway siding to the newly upgraded fuel loading facilities at the Kenya Pipeline Corporation depot in Kisumu. This in turn supported the Blue Economy in the region through Lake Victoria Transport Corridors.
“During the ten years of our operations under the current government, most of the small scale traders SMEs did not have an effective business trading centre. We therefore created what we call a National Cargo Deconsolidation Centre which is located at the Kenya Railways Transit Shed in Nairobi, where we move all the cargo for SMEs from Mombasa to our yard. Traders then come together, buy one container, consolidate and transport their cargo from China, India or Turkey and collect the cargo right from our yard. This has really changed the dynamics of SME trading,” remarked the MD.
Mr. Mainga proudly stated that most of the rehabilitation works were carried out locally by Kenyans, translating to a drastic reduction of costs. “What most Kenyans do not know is that all these rehabilitation works are being undertaken by our staff at our rehabilitated workshops where we are manufacturing spare parts locally and soon you will see a locomotive remanufactured in central workshops in Kenya Railways,” said Mr. Mainga.
Already, over 200 coaches have been rehabilitated at the workshops with a number of locomotives undergoing rehabilitation.
According to Mr. Mainga, the Nakuru-Kisumu railway line is a breath of fresh air to the tea and coffee farmers as it serves factories in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya regions as well as the fish industry in Kisumu. This has created ripple effects across the economy.
Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) has also expanded its operations by introducing overnight passenger trains on the Kisumu – Nairobi route with the aim of increasing train frequencies to the lakeside region.
Passengers traveling to Kisumu aboard the night train depart the Nairobi Central Station at 6.30 pm and arrive the following morning at 6.30 am. Travelers heading to Nairobi depart the new Kisumu Railway Station at 6.30 pm and arrive the following morning at 6.30 am.
The passenger train services were relaunched on the 17th of December 2021 after more than a decade of inactivity. The relaunch was built on the government’s ‘Big Four’ Agenda aiming at boosting and positioning the lake region as an investment hub.
The line, now linked to the Kisumu port, is expected to back the revival of Lake Victoria water transport, connecting Kenya to ports in Uganda and Tanzania; a major boost for regional trade.
Meanwhile, KRC is growing export business at Lake Victoria. It operates the MV Uhuru 1 with a capacity of 1.1 million litres of fuel, mainly diesel. The corporation is helping to increase oil exports, mainly to Uganda through the ports of Jinja and Port Bell.
In addition, railway lines in Butere, Eldoret, Kitale have also been revived. Rehabilitation of Voi-Taveta line is also underway in a bid to increase cargo movement between Kenya and Tanzania through the Taveta-Holili border.
“As the Managing Director, I set out to ensure the successful operations of the Madaraka Express Passenger and Freight service, rehabilitation of the Metre Gauge Railway (Mombasa- Malaba) and branch lines Nakuru-Kisumu and Thika- Nanyuki Line and rehabilitation of the Nairobi Commuter Rail which seeks to address the transport challenges in Nairobi and the neighboring counties. I also set out to oversee the repossession of Kenya Railways property that has been grabbed or illegally acquired and ensure a smooth implementation of the ongoing Corporation staff restructuring process and these tasks I am determined to achieve before the end of the year 2022,” remarked Mr. Mainga.
The refurbishment efforts initiated by Mr. Mainga also touched on the Nairobi-Nanyuki line with two to three cargo trains already operating on the line.
The revival of the 240-Kilometre Nairobi-Nanyuki Metre-Gauge Railway line supplies the Shell Vivo Energy depot in Nanyuki town offering a safer way of transporting petroleum products to Mt. Kenya region and the Northern parts of the country.
The transportation of petroleum via the railway has greatly minimized cases of fuel adulteration often common when the same is transported by trucks on roads.
The Nairobi-Nanyuki railway line cuts across Kiambu, Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Nyeri, and Laikipia counties. These counties form part of the Central Region Economic Block where the line is expected to greatly boost the region’s economy that currently stands at Sh.2.7 trillion (27 billion USD).
The demand for petroleum products in Mt. Kenya is high currently standing at 4.4 million tonnes annually and with the railway, it means a huge turnaround will be achieved. Already, over 242 million tonnes of fuel has been transported via the channel.
Subsequently, passenger operations also commenced expanding the Central Kenya agricultural and tourism sectors.
Nairobi Commuter Rail System…
The upgrading of Nairobi Commuter Rail, modernisation of its services and running the Diesel Multiple-Units trains has changed the city’s transport system that for years experienced heavy road traffic and gridlock.
The Corporation has also effected a Bus Rapid Transit system offering last-mile connectivity to different parts of the city, including the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. The Corporation has since rehabilitated more than 1,000 km of rail.
The Nairobi Commuter Rail, which is envisaged to transport over 100,000 passengers per day to and from the City has seen the growth of urbanization.
During the ten years, the number of stations within Nairobi city have increased from four stations to about thirty stations easing access to railway services.
“We have integrated the rail network within the country to spur economic growth and movement of people efficiently, safely and affordably. Mass transport system is what happens in any other country because it is efficient, reliable and cost effective,” noted Mr. Mainga.
Currently Kenya Railways operates commuter services on a network of over 153 km in six to seven routes carrying over 100,000 passengers to and from the city.
“We have also connected the Nairobi Central station to the SGR Nairobi Terminus thus commuters traveling to Mombasa do not need to go to the SGR station via road but connect to the SGR station via the Nairobi Central Railway Station,” Mr. Mainga added.
KRC Assets Recovery…
Currently, Mr. Mainga is leading a spirited fight to recover KRC assets worth billions of shillings lost within the last three decades; most of it land grabbed during past governments when railway operations went under.
With support from law enforcement bodies such as the police and Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Corporation has recovered more than 50 title deeds for vast parcels of land in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and a building, worth more than Sh1 billion.
“We are taking back our assets that were neglected and grabbed. Those who illegally acquired these assets should know that we are coming for them,” Mr. Mainga added.
While Mainga’s uphill task was taking back the Metre Gauge Railway operations from Rift Valley Railways (RVR), it saw KRC resume operations on the 100-year-old line, with all the workers from RVR transferred to the corporation.
“That was one of the biggest challenges,” said Mr. Mainga. “It was a government asset that was being mismanaged and misused and we had to get it back, it is one of the best things when I look back. I enjoy it because there is nothing like seeing a government asset being revived and bringing back employment and investments that were lost in different parts of this country.” he added.
Mr. Mainga is also overseeing the gradual takeover of the SGR operations by Kenyans from the Chinese which is expected to be completed later this year.
“A successful rail system remains a key driver of economic growth to double digits,” said Mr. Mainga. He attributes his success to President Uhuru Kenyatta and the very supportive KRC board and staff.
Looking Into The Future…
Kenya Railways has prepared a Commuter Railway Master Plan that has identified new corridors apart from the existing commuter networks that have been rehabilitated.
These are being developed progressively. The first phase was the revitalization of the existing commuter network with a connection to JKIA. Plans for construction of an Airport line from Syokimau/Nairobi Terminus are at advanced stages.
The revival of the Nairobi-Nanyuki railway came at a cost of Sh.1.8 billion with plans to extend the railway line to Meru and Isiolo Counties. This line will be connected to the Lamu Port. From Lamu Port, it is expected to move to Isiolo, Moyale then to Addis Abbaba and to South Sudan.
Already, a feasibility study has been completed by the partner states to effect the South Sudan, Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET).
“The initiative aims at stimulating the economy and easing cargo movement to neighboring countries using the Ports of Mombasa and Lamu. For the mentioned project, we recalled over 2,000 former Kenya Railways employees to help with the works,” explained the MD.
To further decongest the capital city, the corporation intends to increase the commuter network with the extension of the commuter services to cosmopolitan towns surrounding the capital city of Nairobi.
“Already, we have started seeing the contribution of the railway system to our GDP. We are beginning to see the impact of the railway system in the country. Kenyan business people need transport, they need a convenient and cheaper way of doing business and cost reduction which Kenya Railways through the government has provided. All we need to think of, is how do we trade, how do we do business and then the economy and GDP will grow,” the MD concludes.