Train speed, punctuality of China-built Kenyan railway impress passengers

By Li Xuanmin and Leng Shumei Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/20 23:33:39

Train speed, price, punctuality impress Kenyan passengers

A Kenyan journalist poses for selfies with female train driver Concilia (C) and Alice (L) during the launching day of the Mombasa-Nairobi railway in Mombasa, Kenya, May 31, 2017. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday launched the passenger train service of the 480-km Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR). (Xinhua/Sun Ruibo)

Two weeks after Kenya inaugurated a China-built railway linking its capital and biggest port city, passengers have been raving about their travel experiences, including the speed, punctuality, reasonable prices and a ticket-booking system supported by an online payment platform, eclipsing the old British-built railway.

Experts said that, as the beginning of the 2,700-kilometer East Africa railway network, the new line is expected to fuel Kenya's economy and further boost East African connectivity. 

The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), which connects Nairobi with the port city of Mombasa, was built and is being operated by the State-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC). Since its inauguration on June 1, the red-and-white trains have carried 22,000 passengers as of June 10, according to a statement CRBC sent to the Global Times on Tuesday.  The railway had an average passenger load factor of 72.5 percent for 10 days.

The 480-kilometer stretch is Kenya's largest infrastructure project since gaining independence in 1963, with an investment of $3.8 billion.

'Millennium train'

Dubbed the Madaraka (Freedom) Express, the SGR train is designed to run at 120 kilometers an hour, with a maximum load of 1,370 people.

Some local people call the SGR line the "millennium train."

"It's a milestone event for Kenya," Michelle Kazan, a 35-year-old local resident, told the Global Times on Tuesday. He noted that locals used to rely on two-lane highways, which frequently suffered from traffic jams and accidents, or the meter-gauge "Lunatic Express" built by Britain a century ago from Nairobi to Mombasa.

"The China-built railway has cut travel time by half, from at least eight hours to around four hours," he added.

Another local resident, Nelson Mbugua, agrees. "This is my best experience … fast, smooth, comfortable and it arrives on time," he told the Global Times on Monday. He explained that it only costs 700 Kenyan shillings ($6.7) for a second-class seat, which equals the price of a third-class seat on the "Lunatic Express," and much lower than the 1,400 Kenyan shillings charged by buses.

A third local passenger, Rhoda Tsuma Mwebesa, said the train also offers a unique view, as it passes by the Tsavo National Park.

"Every Kenyan should take a ride on this brand-new train … If your friends cannot afford it, you can buy them tickets as a gift," Mwebesa told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The rail system also supports Kenya's largest online payment platform M-pesa, which simplifies the process, according to a male passenger surnamed Anthony, who takes the train once a week.

The CRBC operates one train in each direction daily. The company is planning to add seven more stations in the next phase, and more trips will be made as demand grows, Liu Xuejun, deputy director of the CBC's transport department, told the Global Times.

The Nairobi-Mombasa railway is also the beginning of a 2,700-kilometer East Africa system, which would eventually connect Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and other East African countries, Li Qiang, the general manager of CRBC's East Africa region, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Right timing

Industry players noted that the railway comes at a time when Kenya's economy is in need of "powerful engines."

Mombasa Port, the SGR train's destination, is now the biggest port in East Africa with container throughput hitting 25 million tons a year.

Yet Kenya's road capacity lags far behind the port's. For example, the speed of the "Lunatic Express" had slowed to around 30 kilometers an hour and its annual freight volume stood at less than 1 million tons due to antiquated technology and poor maintenance.

That's less than 5 percent of the port's total throughput, according to the CRBC statement.

Inefficient transportation has raised Kenyan commodity prices and hurt exports. Against such a backdrop, the SGR line is expected to "lower logistics costs by 10 to 40 percent," He Wenping, a research fellow at the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Kenyan Transport Minister James Macharia said the government expects the railway to boost the country's annual GDP by 1.5 percent, according to media reports.

The project "will not only generate jobs in Kenya but also promote regional economic development, as it connects neighboring countries and speeds up transportation in the region," Li Zhibiao, a research fellow at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Posted in: DIPLOMACY

blog comments powered by Disqus