Kenya’s efforts to become a major regional business and transport hub in East Africa moved closer to reality with Tuesday’s launch of a modern railway station in Nairobi, the capital.
President Mwai Kibaki launched the Nairobi Commuter Rail Service and the Syokimau Railway Station link, marking what his office said was a “major milestone” in the history of railway development in the country.
Kenya was colonized by the British, which built what was then known as the Lunatic Express (railway to nowhere), named by British politicians opposed to railway plan linking Kenya to Uganda.
Since then, no major railway projects have taken place, leaving the country and the region with a tattered railway network.
The Kenyan and Ugandan governments have signed a bilateral agreement to facilitate the joint development of the Mombasa-Malaba-Kampala standard gauge railway.
A branch line will also be extended to Kisumu, Kenya’s third city, the President said during the launch of the new modern railway station in Nairobi, which offers a link to the international airport.
The government said it was also finalizing plans for the construction of the Imara Daima and Makadara railway stations within Nairobi.
Design work for the development of similar rail transport systems in Mombasa and Kisumu cities are also in progress.
President Kibaki said Kenya was collaborating with other countries in the region to develop railway infrastructure in order to improve regional connectivity.
“The railway extension and railway station, the first to be built in Kenya in the last 80 years, cost the Rift Valley Railways US$5 million and will impact positively on traffic management in Nairobi,” the Presidential Press Services (PPS) said in a statement.
Kenyan authorities say the railway services in Nairobi and the development of a modern railway station at Syokimau in Nairobi’s outskirts, will provide safe, reliable, comfortable and affordable rail transport for city residents and visitors.
“We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Ethiopia for the development of Lamu-Addis Ababa standard gauge railway,” Kibaki stated.
“The development of railway infrastructure will supplement the other modes of transport, thereby enhancing trade relations and economic integration,” Kibaki said.
Nairobi’s traffic jams continue to worsen despite the development of new routes to open up the road transport.
Kenyan youth trained by the Kenya Railways Corporation constructed the two-kilometre branch line to Syokimau Station from the main Mombasa-Nairobi railway line.
Meanwhile, Kibaki has urged Kenyans to protect modernized facilities from vandals and utilize them responsibly in order to ensure long-term sustainability of the investments.
Kenya is currently spearheading the Lamu-South Sudan and Ethiopia Transport Corridor Project.
Kenyan officials say the development of a railway component is among the priority projects.
Apart from reducing transport costs due to faster movement of goods and people within the region, also increase trade, improve the socio-economic welfare of Northern Kenya.
The service will also improve the socio-economic welfare of citizens, while at the same time enabling Nairobi to remain the regional economic, commercial and business hub in the region.
This will boost the country’s potential in attracting investments from all over the world.
Transport Minister Amos Kimunya said transport-related legislation was under review to align them with the Constitution.
Among the legislation targeted, the minister noted, include the legal and regulatory framework of the railway sector to introduce safety and economic regulations to boost investor confidence in the sector.