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SGR cargo service heralds new era in transportation

Fred Aminga @faminga

Refurbished Sh22 billion Nairobi Inland Container Depot (ICD) project received the first consignment of containers delivered via the Standard Gauge Rail (SGR) yesterday.

The move ushers a new chapter for transportation of goods in the country hitherto characterised by heavy commercial vehicles which were prone to accidents and a slower metre-gauge rail. Its first cargo train carried 104 containers, which is almost equivalent to the trucks operating daily on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway.

The new development is set to arrest various concerns of cargo transporters between Mombasa and the mainland. Kenya Ports Authority head of ICDs Symon Wahome says the cargo facility will not only provide traders with cost relief for cargo transport but also save a lot of time. The SGR cargo services also cuts the transportation time from 24 hours to between eight and 10 hours.

Transporting a 20-feet container to Nairobi on truck costs between Sh65,000 to Sh80,000 depending on the weight of the cargo while the same weight fully loaded on board an SGR container will be transported at Sh49,500.

The depot boasts of seamless clearance, evacuation and movement of cargo to enhance operations of the shippers, freight forwarders and other stakeholders in the sector. In line with Vision 2030, the government plans to ensure such mega infrastructures spur economic growth since transport and infrastructure are considered key enablers of growth.

With the capacity to handle at least 17 passengers’ trains and 13 cargo freight daily which can ferry 130 containers per trip, the SGR can handle 1,690 containers on a daily basis.

Analysts, however, recon that for this project to be successful, the requisite last mile connectivity and connection to major road arteries must be well-coordinated to ensure faster evacuation and delivery of cargo into and out of the depot.

Apart from road network, John Kirimi, an independent analyst, says other challenges will crop up unless the concerned ministries and stakeholders put their act together. “For example, some cargo coming into bonded warehouses usually have big challenges, while others might have their duty paid in Mombasa. How these will be marshaled at the yard could be a nightmare,” he said.

Kirimi says that to make economic sense, the country must deepen manufacturing to ensure that the facility is busy with incoming and outgoing cargo. Latest reports from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicate the country’s trade deficit widened in the third quarter driven by growth in the import bill of food and petroleum products.

Imports rose to Sh450.9 billion from Sh374.8 billion in the third quarter of 2016. “It is unfortunate that we do not appear to have weaned ourselves from the malady of value addition.

Half a century since independence we are still exporting goods like coffee and tea in raw format. This must change for us to be able to pay some of the bills arising from our mega infrastructure projects,” he said.

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