Team formed to spearhead Kenya-Uganda railway upgrade project
Business Daily Africa: 1 August 2008
Written by Zeddy Sambu
NAIROBI -- Implementation of a regional plan to upgrade East Africa’s railway network has began with the formation of a committee to spearhead the project.
Upgrade of the regional rail network has moved a step higher with the formation of a team to spearhead the project.
The project, which is to be financed through a Sh200 billion debt, is to establish a new railway network with a modern gauge to speed up transport in the region. Currently, it takes up to 20 days to move cargo between Mombasa and Bujumbura. With the new line, this journey will only take 28 hours.
Solomon Ouna, a consultant engineer at Kenya Railways Corporation says after the completion of the rail, wagons will be able to carry 100 tonnes of goods compared to the current 40 tonnes.
If implemented, the project will also cut the travel time between Nairobi and Mombasa to less than three hours from the seven hours taken by road users. The shift will also mean less cargo haulage over roads as transporters would prefer trains over trucks.
“Nearly 80 per cent of the world uses standard gauge with greater carrying capacity and cheaper operating costs,” said Manu Chandaria, an industrialist and chairman of the 13-member Consultative Group which comprises other representatives from key industries.
Experts argue that the current fleet costs about $4.5 a tonne a kilometre of transport by rail compared to an average of $1.6 a tonne a kilometre in the US and Europe.
Success of the $3 billion standard, broad and electrified track that is to run through the capitals of the five East African community member states is hinged on the backing of all the regional governments.
The Development Master Plan 2050, aims to change the current metre gauge railway system into a standard gauge rail network.
A rail gauge is the distance between the inner sides of the two parallel metal bars that make up a railway track.
Eighty per cent of the world’s railways use a gauge of 1,435 mm, which is the standard or international gauge.
This kind of rail network is designed for speedier passenger transport of between 120km an hour and 160km an hour. Goods or freight engines move on the standard line at between 100km an hour to 120km an hour.
Nearly 90 per cent of goods are transported by road, with a paltry six per cent transported by railway. Of the 16 million tonnes of goods handled each year at the port of Mombasa, rail-bound cargo accounts for 10 million tonnes.
But in its current state, the privatised rail carries only a maximum of 1.6 million tonnes. Reduced train speeds of between 20-25 kph due to weak track has seen more cargo diverted to the roads.
Phase one of the project will entail construction of the main truck to the regional capitals with the subsequent phases running between Nairobi-Ethiopia border while phase three will connect Lamu to Juba in southern Sudan.
Kenya Railway Corporation, the agency that will represent Kenya in the regional team, yesterday, unveiled a plan which showed the project will also own its first electric tracks and trains.
A complete regional network will require Uganda to construct 1,190km of rail, Rwanda 100km, Ethiopia 620km and 490km in southern Sudan. The railways corporation will on behalf of the Kenya government construct 3,180 km of the rail network at a cost of Sh98 billion ($1.5 billion) over 16 years. This translates to Sh6.6 billion a year.
This latest plan comes two years after Kenya and Uganda put their railway services in the hands of Rift Valley Railways (RVR), which is facing financial difficulties.
The Master Plan 2050 recommends a regional railways standard gauge network to serve Kenya Uganda, Tanzania, southern Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Somalia.
Financing options for the project include infrastructure bonds, joint ventures, loans, build-operate-transfer (BOT) and a government-funded Open Access System.
In April, the EAC summit approved the construction of the standard gauge regional railways network to serve the region.