Kenya: Nairobi-Suswa SGR Service to Open Up Hinterland

20 October 2019

This week, Kenya Railways acting Managing Director Philip Mainga responds to your questions.

1. Some reports have characterised the Nairobi -- Suswa line as a 'railway to nowhere'. What are KRC's plans for cargo transport on the line beyond Nairobi? Stanslaus Micheni, Maua

The unfortunate characterisation fails to take into account the huge potential of the hinterland the line will serve and its proposed internodal links with the MGR.

The government has set up requisite infrastructure for the Maai Mahiu and Naivasha goods depots.

The facilities, including other auxiliary components of the project, will become functional in the coming months.

Negotiations to cede the MGR to a private entity that is willing to invest billions in the rehabilitation of the section between Naivasha and Malaba are ongoing.

2. Does Kenya Railways plan to add any new coaches and locomotives that would operate the Suswa line, or will existing ones be enough to serve the entire stretch from Mombasa? Ken Kinyanjui, Nakuru

The operational and logistical arrangements to ensure a seamless, efficient and reliable train service on the new routes have been implemented and are in place.

The need to increase the number of coaches will be informed by the initial demand for the service in the four new stations at Rongai, Ngong, Maai Mahiu and Suswa.

We expect many Kenyans who live on the outskirts of the city, especially in the satellite towns of Rongai and Ngong, to switch to railway transport now that it is available.

3. Since its launch, how much has SGR been able to generate annually and would you say the revenues give you hope of self-sustainability? Alex O. Awino, Nairobi

The SGR service has shown a sustained upward momentum in revenues since the launch of the passenger services in June 2017 and subsequently, the freight business.

We are now way over the one billion-shilling mark in revenues for the passenger service and we believe the business will continue to grow.

However, contrary to popular belief, the SGR project was not meant to be a profit-generating venture for the government.

It was meant to spur development and drive growth in various sectors of the economy.

4. It is in public knowledge that the SGR is under Chinese management. With the construction of this infrastructure expected to go beyond Naivasha, how are you preparing young Kenyans to run it? Is there a deliberate skills transfer arrangement that will eventually guarantee us sustainability and continuity in SGR management? Komen Moris, Eldoret

The project comes with a critical and inbuilt component of training and skill-set transfer.

More than 100 Kenyans have undergone training in railway engineering, management, operations and hospitality in China.

As we speak, a team just left the country a few days ago for training. The training will enable Kenyans to understand the business of managing railways and be prepared to take over critical jobs alongside the Chinese and by themselves once the current contract expires.

The Ministry of Transport is particularly keen on this critical aspect of absorption of Kenyans into key positions once they complete the relevant training abroad.

It is instructive to note that the localisation in terms of skills transfer has achieved a 90 per cent success rate.

5. The position of MD was recently advertised. As the incumbent, do you believe you have what it takes to lead the organisation? Rashidi Rashad, Garissa, Garissa County.

Not to appear to hand myself undue advantage over other candidates, it is only fair to reserve my comments on this question.

I would rather be judged based on what I have achieved during my tenure in office.

6. Kenya Railways Corporation can boast having multibillion-shilling properties and assets, including huge parcels of land, offices and houses all over the country. My concern is that most of these, from Mombasa to Malaba, have been grabbed, neglected or vandalised. Given that the government is looking for funding to revive and upgrade rail transport for both passengers and cargo along this route, what plans have you adopted to get them back? Dan Murugu, Nakuru

KRC is in the process of recovering most of these properties. We are working very closely with government agencies to return what was illegally acquired and some properties have been recovered. Once the exercise is complete, an audit will be carried out to evaluate its success.

7. We haven't seen much investment and activity in reviving the Commuter Rail Service after the collapse of RVR. What plans do you have for the public transport sector considering the crisis we are faced with and the need to provide an efficient system? Zachary Ochieng, Kisumu

The KRC and the Ministry of Transport are committed to the revitalisation of the public railway transport sector and specifically, the commuter rail service.

The corporation is about to complete rehabilitation of metre gauge railway (MGR) stations and lines under the commuter rail project in various towns within the Nairobi City Metropolitan Area.

The revamped Nairobi Commuter Rail (NCR) on the old MGR line is now ferrying some 30,000 passengers a day from the previous 14,000.

With the introduction of new coaches within the next two months, the figure is projected to grow to three million a month. This is no mean feat.

The current fleet has been refurbished to provide passengers with comfort. A few challenges exist in service delivery due to legacy factors but we are determined to deal with them.

8. What informed the decision by the management of Madaraka Express to ban passengers from bringing food and drinks aboard yet what is on offer is too expensive and unpleasant? Mutinda Betty, Nairobi

The decision, which has since been rescinded, was informed by certain reported incidents involving unruly passengers who become too intoxicated and misbehaved, inconveniencing others.

We also received credible reports of criminals drugging passengers using [food]. We assessed the situation and arrived at this conclusion based on these findings.

However, the operations team - comprising KRC and the Madaraka Express operator - will soon issue proper guidelines and measures that will have to be adhered to in this regard.

Our eventual position will take into consideration children, the sick and mothers who might require assistance during their travel.

The caterer aboard Madaraka Express will also be required to adhere to new guidelines to ensure passengers are well taken care of during their trips.

9. The commuter train that serves residents of Embakasi, Pipeline and Donholm makes just a trip in the morning and another one in the evening. On the other hand, the Syokimau train makes multiple trips. Why this discrimination when in actual fact, there are many train users on the Embakasi route than Syokimau? Would you consider giving your customers in Embakasi an additional trip in the mornings and evenings to decongest the coaches? Louise Kiseki, Pipeline Estate Nairobi

Logistical bottlenecks and planning have been behind the delay to increase the number of trains plying the Embakasi route.

However, this has now been resolved and with the introduction of the recently acquired coaches, this gap and disparity will be a thing of the past.

This is a concern that we are determined to address urgently. KRC has completed a modern railway station at Embakasi and is in the process of completing rehabilitation works on the track to allow for additional trips during morning and evening hours.

10. What would you list as some of your achievements during the time you have served as acting managing director? Paul Mbugua, Kiambu County.

With the full support of the executive, the current leadership at the Ministry of Transport and the board, I believe we have achieved tangible results during the last one year.

For instance, Madaraka Express, the SGR's passenger transport operation, is presently serving an average of 7,000 passengers a day between Nairobi and Mombasa.

With the board's support, we have enabled the operator to meet its targets within the set timelines. We have also been instrumental in the ongoing revival of the Kisumu port.

These achievements are the results of deliberate team effort. I would be misleading Kenyans if I claim the successes as my own.

I believe leadership is about setting goals and objectives and motivating your team to achieve them.

Leadership is about vision. It is also about surmounting obstacles and staying the course.

When you do these things, you create the right environment for strategic change and sustainable success.

11 Apart from slow cargo clearance at the Inland Container Depot (ICD), the high cost of freight due to unfavourable tariffs by Kenya Railways, handling charges, last-mile transport and return of empty containers to the shipping lines through the SGR, importers are paying more than double what they paid on road transport, defeating the essence of having rail transport as a cheaper and convenient way of moving goods over long distances. How are you planning to deal with the problem? Raphael Obonyo, Nairobi

The role of the train service is to provide an efficient, safe and reliable means of transportation of goods from the port of Mombasa.

There is a lot of misinformation being peddled around regarding actual costs.

Admittedly, we have faced some challenges and teething problems but some of these complaints about tariffs and empty containers are already being resolved.

It is a learning curve for us but I can assure you we are doing everything within our power to streamline operations and ensure our customers get an efficient and affordable service compared to other options.

12. The Chinese operator of the Madaraka Express has in the past faced many accusations, ranging from discrimination to unfair labour practices. What have you done to ensure these complaints do not keep coming up? Gabriel Kutula, Kitui County

Most of the allegations levelled against the SGR operator were investigated and appropriate action taken against those found culpable. Some of the accusations had to be dismissed for lack of evidence. However, the corporation has enhanced supervision to ensure strict compliance and the integration of best practices into the SGR's operations.

13 I have always wanted to know why the SGR was not made to run side by side with the old metre gauge railway system. What informed this and is the apparent abandonment of the metre gauge railway good for Kenya Railways? Francis Njuguna, Kibichoi

The decision to build a brand-new railway line was arrived at after intensive feasibility studies on the viability of an SGR line compared to the metre gauge railway.

The government considered overall costs, terrain, geophysical factors and socio-economic reasons, which justified the sustainability of an independent SGR line.

The SGR is playing a role that the MGR was not able to do in its many decades of existence.

We need a technically sound, modern, efficient, robust and reliable railway transport system that can match the needs and demands of the 21st century.

However, the MGR still complements the SGR in freight services from Mombasa to Malaba.

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