Over 100 years ago, the British government proposed a plan to lay a railway track from the Indian Ocean into the Kenya’s virgin interior. Due to the shaky-looking wooden bridges, prohibitive cost, hostile locals, and men who fell by their hundreds to diseases and man-eating lions, the railway earned the tag “Lunatic Express”.
Undeterred, the British government pushed on with construction of the railway line beginning in Mombasa in 1895. By 1899 the railway reached Nairobi and in December 1901, the railway reached the shore of Lake Victoria then called-Port Florence.
The second stretch of the railway into Kampala, Uganda started in 1901 and was completed in 1903. After completion, Winston Churchill, went on to regard the “lunatic line” as “a brilliant conception”.
He said of the project: “The British art of ‘muddling through’ is seen in one of its finest expositions. Kenyans unsure of the rail called it “the iron snake”. The rest is history.
The lunatic line went on to become the greatest economic miracle of the 19th century for an untapped East Africa opening up Kenya and Uganda which were then British colonies for huge business and modernisation.
Fast forward, 120 years later, and a rebirth of the railway line is now a reality.This time however, Kenya with help from China, has spearheaded revival of efficient railway transport in the region.
Like the original railway, the new Standard Gauge Railway will redefine Kenya and the region in the next century in unimaginable ways. The railway will run from Nairobi to Mombasa and eventually link to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo, proof of regional trade cooperation amongst states and eventually open up African to international markets.
The gains SGR brings forth demands that as patriotic citizens, we must keep the country’s best interests at heart. The unfortunate incident by vandals on a section of the SGR at Mariakani is tantamount to economic sabotage of national interests and thus such people should be treated as enemies of the State. It is a deliberate and conscious action to subvert the country’s goals and ambitions.
The SGR must be guarded jealously for maximum posterity gain. If the lunatic line created and fulfilled expectations among East Africans, the SGR has sowed seeds of even bigger hopes.
What the SGR will do for Kenya is tenfold what the original railway did for the country and the region. The SGR is reclaiming the place of the railway sector in land transport by creating the desired balance between road and rail transport of 60 to 40 per cent. The writer is a Reporter People Daily Newspaper.