In the wee hours of February 14, bulldozers descended on businesses, churches, homes and other establishments at Mbaruk on the Nakuru-Nairobi highway.
Residents helplessly watched as structures that had housed them for years were reduced to rubble. The bulldozers tore through their neighbourhood, mowing down buildings to make way for the rehabilitation of the Nakuru-Kisumu metre-gauge railway.
Not even learning institutions were spared. Hundreds of residents gathered amid the rubble where the multi-million-shilling Blescohouse Premier School once stood. Devastated, they sat on piles of broken bricks atop bare foundations of the once giant institution. The 350 students will now have to seek admission in other schools.
Since October last year, the Kenya Railways Corporation has flattened hundreds of buildings estimated to be worth at least Sh1.5 billion in Nakuru and Elburgon towns.
But how did the victims acquire Kenya Railways land in the first place?
Government spokesperson Cyrus Oguna says some individuals used unscrupulous means to acquire land belonging to the corporation, which they later sold to the unsuspecting public, with some even managing to acquire title deeds.
"KRC started the exercise last year and the State agency is determined to reclaim all the land owned by KRC. We will get title deeds for the reclaimed land. We care about Kenyans and that is why we want them to stay at least 30 metres away from the railway reserve," stated Col Oguna.
"Others claim they were given the land by KRC, it is now time for the agency to reclaim its land. KRC issued the victims with notices on several occasions, including last year, but they refused to honour them. KRC issued a notice that was published even in newspapers of national circulation," he added.
In Nakuru, leaders, among them Governor Lee Kinyanjui, and MPs Kuria Kimani for Molo and Samuel Arama of Nakuru Town West, have condemned the manner in which the buildings have been destroyed.
Mr Kinyanjui noted that the tenants had legal lease contracts with the KRC, some for between 15 and 30 years, yet the company evicted them in an inhumane way.
"Adequate notice should have been given to the businessmen who have, for years, invested heavily, with some still servicing loans," said the governor.
His sentiments were echoed by the MPs.
"We want investigative agencies to intervene and unravel the circumstances under which the occupants of railway land acquired it and those found culpable of grabbing it be prosecuted," said Mr Kimani.
Several traders interviewed paint a picture of a "ruthless" event that has impoverished them.
Mrs Beatrice Wambui, one of the victims, told the Nation, she bought land on which she built a Sh4 million house about 30 years ago, and was shocked to learn that it was railway land. She said she has a title deed to the land.
"I was not issued with any written notice. I was only issued with a 24-hour notice to vacate the land, and hours later, bulldozers arrived and started conducting the demolitions," said a teary Ms Wambui.
Mr James Mbuthia, who lost a building that housed shops, said he had invested more than Sh20 million in the site.
"I spent a fortune putting up this structure, and I do not want to remember the story," said Mr Mbuthia.
Ms Gladys Nyaboke, the owner of a Sh21 million home claimed her home is about 150 metres from the railway line, but she was given a verbal notice to vacate.
Just like others, she said, she has a valid title deed issued in 1993.
"I bought the land from another person who occupied it. I received a title deed, now I don't understand how it has become Kenya Railways reserve," she said.
Mr Charles Maina, a trader in Elburgon lost his building that had three shops a month ago.
"I leased the land and I have documents. Why did Kenya Railways lease land and now they are acquiring it without giving adequate notice?" Mr Maina lamented.
Ms Mary Wambui, who worked at a night club on Geoffrey Kamau Way, says she lost her job due to the demolitions.
"I depended on my job to take care of my three children. One morning I woke up and found the club where I worked had been flattened by bulldozers. I cried. Life has been very difficult for me. I now struggle to fend for my family," Ms Wambui told the Nation.
In Nakuru town, Kenya Railways is facing at least four court cases over demolitions in October 2020 that saw traders lose millions of shillings.
Two companies have filed separate cases in which they accuse the state agency of violating a lease agreement they have for land on Geoffrey Kamau Way.
Early this year, some traders got a reprieve, after they obtained court orders restraining the State corporation from evicting them. Nakel Investments Ltd and Falcon Service Station Ltd were among the traders whose building were demolished. They lost investments worth more than Sh500 million in evictions last month.
Environment and Lands Court Judge Dalmas Ohungo, issued a temporary injunction stopping any further evictions until the matter is heard and determined.
"A temporary injunction is hereby issued restraining the Kenya Railways by themselves, or their agents from trespassing, alienating, constructing, leasing or transferring the parcels of land located within Nakuru town, pending hearing and determination of this application," read the ruling by Justice Ohungo.
According to Kenya Railways documents filed in court, the land in contention, which spans more than 400 metres along Geoffrey Kamau Way, had been leased to six investors for 25 years.
Kenya Railways says the terms were that it may repossess the land after giving a notice of 90 days. The corporation says it gave the traders enough time to vacate the land.
However, the companies argue that the lease was signed in 2018, paving way for 300 investors to put up structures that were valued at millions of shillings.
The demolitions in October last year targeted restaurants, shops, petrol stations, night clubs, matatu sacco offices, car wash and car bazaars.
Companies and individuals that had leased the land from Kenya Railways included Falcon Service Station, Nicholas Njau Kiarie, Casuarina Ltd, Nakel Investment Ltd, Flagon Ltd and S K Towett.
The rehabilitation of the Nairobi-Nakuru-Kisumu metre-gauge railway is being undertaken by engineers from the Kenya Defence Forces and the National Youth Service.
Early this week the demolitions continued at Mashini trading centre, Mbaruk, among other areas along the railway.