People Daily Team @PeopleDailyKE
Fireworks illuminated the sea-side terminal of the Standard Gauge Railway at Port Reitz, Mombasa, last evening as President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged off the first cargo train of the modern rail system.
Pomp and colour underlined by patriotic song Kenya Kipenzi chetu by Mwalimu Wesonga playing in the background mingled with the humming drone of the bright-red diesel engine, emblazoned with the Kenyan flag.
History was made as Uhuru, accompanied by his deputy William Ruto, dignitaries from Kenya and China, set rolling the DF8B locomotive from the terminal that has come to be known as Ground Zero inside the Port of Mombasa.
The train, that has capacity to haul 4,000 tonnes of freight, brought in tow 50 containers, quite below the maximum, as it revved and the drivers saluted from the deck before leaving the platform.
It was 117 years since the first train of the then Kenya-Uganda Railway was flagged off by the British builders of the first metre-gauge railway that will now become obsolete for passenger service but retain cargo back-up.
The freight train that left Mombasa at 6.30pm was expected to travel the 473km to reach the Syokimau terminal at about 1.30am this morning.
A passenger train is expected to be covering the distance in about four-and-half hours while the cargo hauler will be taking between six and seven. Uhuru will this morning commission, then board, the first SGR commuter train from the Miritini station that is a few kilometres from the port cargo terminal for another historic journey to Nairobi.
The passengers, who include dignitaries and invited guests, will have stop-overs in some of the 23 stations along the route where the President will address residents.
Special guests from Kenya’s partner in the project, China, included the China Communication and Construction Company President Chen Fenjian, Exim Bank of China President Liu Lianke and Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Liu Xianfa, all who spoke in praise of development cooperation between the two nations.
Uhuru said the launch was a historical moment for all Kenyans, noting the project had weathered all attempts to derail it and was an achievement to be celebrated by all Kenyans for many years to come.
He said the country was laying a foundation that would lead to an industrialisation chapter as it moves to establish special economic zones along the railway route, starting with a free port at Ndongo Kundu.
“Today, we see what we can achieve if we have unity of purpose, today we see what we can achieve as a nation if we work together, this railway is not for us it is for the many generations that will come after us,” he said.
The President also laughed off claims that the government was planning to move the Port of Mombasa to Naivasha saying this was not practically possible, adding that it was not a Jubilee project but Kenyans’.
He said for the last two-and-half years, the government had invested approximately Sh60 billion at the port of Mombasa to make the facility the most efficient in the region.
The launch of the SGR heralds a new dawn for the economy spurred by a faster and more efficient movement of goods and services between Mombasa, Nairobi, Nakuru and Kisumu. Cutting the cost and travel time between Mombasa and Nairobi tremendously, the ‘Madaraka Express’ is eons ahead of its predecessor, the ‘Lunatic Express’.
It is estimated the project will contribute an annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth of at least 1.5 per cent during construction and subsequent operation, creating at least 60 new jobs per kilometre of track during the construction period.
The 473km SGR line between Mombasa and Nairobi will be Kenya’s largest single infrastructure project since independence constructed at a cost of Sh327 billion in a deal co-financed through commercial and semi-concessional loans from both the Chinese and Kenyan governments.
The Stretch currently being launched between Mombasa and Nairobi is the first part of the two-phase project having secured funding for the first part of SGR’s second phase (Phase 2A) between Nairobi and Naivasha.
Phase 2B of the SGR will run between Naivasha, Narok, Bomet, Nyamira and Kisumu. It will also include the development of a new high capacity port at Kisumu.
Phase 2C of the SGR connects Kisumu and Malaba through Yala and Mumias. The standard gauge railway then plans to run up to Malaba before linking Kenya to Uganda, Rwanda and even Juba in South Sudan.
The strategic infrastructure is in tune with Kenya’s strategic location as a transit state on which many landlocked countries depend for their strategic imports.
A faster first-class railway infrastructure will not only boast trade and relations within the region, but will play a huge part in enthusing a booming tourism sector. Reporting by Reuben Mwambingu, Harisson Kivisu, Fred Aminga and Kimathi Mutegi