The century-old metre gauge railway from Naivasha to Malaba will undergo a multi-billion-shilling renovation starting next month, as the government seeks to link the track to the Mombasa-Naivasha standard gauge railway in Naivasha.
Kenya has opted to finance the repair of the rundown railway using its own resources after dropping a private financier and a Chinese contractor who had quoted over Sh50 billion to renovate the railway – a figure that is nearly three times the government’s initiation budget of Sh21 billion.
According to Transport Secretary James Macharia, the Naivasha to Malaba railway will now be renovated at an estimated cost of Sh3.5 billion to help reduce the number of cargo trucks on the Kenyan roads.
The government will fund it and the estimated cost is about Sh3.5 billion, but after proper documentation this could be plus or minus,” Mr Macharia told the Business Daily.
“I would say that about a month from today, it will start and will take a year to complete. We want to do it as an extension of the SGR and it has to be seamless”.
Mr Macharia did not provide renovation details that helped cut the budget from the initial estimate of Sh21 billion. He only said the government was trying to move quickly to reduce the number of trucks on the highway to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are doing this with the coronavirus in mind and we want to reduce the issue of trucks along the road moving this cargo,” he said, suggesting that the upgrade is a temporary solution as Kenya plans for the extension of standard gauge railway.
The old railway from Naivasha to Malaba has been operational but is in bad condition, limiting the cargo volumes and train speeds on it.
Its upgrade was expected to start in July last year but the project failed to start after the Chinese contractor quoted the hefty figure, frustrating plans to connect the line to the SGR in Naivasha.
Kenya, which had earlier ruled out upgrading the metre gauge railway, shelved its bid to extend the SGR line to Kisumu and later on to Malaba after failing to secure a loan from China, which financed the Mombasa-Naivasha SGR at a cost of Sh477 billion including financing costs.
Uganda, which equally failed to secure a loan from China, is also working to revamp the Malaba to Kampala metre gauge railway with funding from the European Union. The repair of the Malaba-Kampala and Tororo-Gulu is estimated to cost Sh18 billion.
There are fears that the Mombasa-Naivasha standard gauge railway will not be economically viable if it is not linked to Kampala, considering that most of Uganda’s imports pass through the port of Mombasa.