* As a strategic infrastructure project, the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) supports the implementation of Kenya‘s two flagship plans for socio-economic transformation – the 2030 Vision and the Big Four Agenda.
* The SGR has enhanced Kenya’s trade with neighboring countries and provided an economic lifeline for member states of the East African Community.
* Under the Sino-Africa Cooperation Forum, the SGR is among the many China-Kenya infrastructure cooperation projects leading Sino-Africa cooperation.
by Xinhua writer Bai Lin
NAIROBI, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) — A veteran insurance salesman, Farahana Mghoi spent seven hours in matatus, Kenya’s public service vehicles, from her hometown of Voi in southeastern Kenya to Nairobi to meet a potential client. It was both slow and tiring.
Since 2018, the time for the 328 km journey has been reduced to four hours thanks to the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) passenger train, which was introduced in May 2017.
Mainly financed by China and built by the China Road and Bridge Corporation, the 480km railway linking Mombasa, East Africa’s largest port, and Kenya’s capital Nairobi is a flagship project under China’s proposed Belt and Road Initiative and it is also Kenya’s largest infrastructure project since independence in 1963.
Mghoi said the efficient, reliable and affordable mobility that SGR has always guaranteed her when she travels to meet new clients has propelled her career.
The SGR is “an extremely good experience in recent years,” James Macharia, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure, housing and urban development, told Xinhua. “We can expect much more profitable operations in the future.”
As a strategic infrastructure project, the SGR supports the implementation of Kenya’s two flagship plans for socio-economic transformation – the Vision 2030 and the Big Four Agenda,” said Philip Mainga, Managing Director of Kenya Railways Corporation.
Members of the first cohort of independent Kenyan train drivers pose for a group photo in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 19, 2022. (Xinhua)
LESS TIME ON THE ROAD, MORE POSSIBILITIES
With the SGR, Mghoi is able to reach her destination on time and easily negotiate a potential business opportunity. She said the punctuality helped her establish trust and confidence with her customers.
Mghoi is among a growing army of Kenyan professionals, entrepreneurs and tourists who have embraced the SGR service.
The Mombasa-Nairobi SGR and the additional 120 km Nairobi-Naivasha SGR have also facilitated bulk cargo transportation to the hinterland.
It takes eight hours to move bulk goods like raw materials from the Mombasa port to an inland container depot in Nairobi on the SGR freight service, as opposed to about two days on the century-old meter gauge railway built by British colonialists, said Edward Opiyo, Nairobi’s terminal manager Freight Terminals Limited, a logistics company.
As logistic companies are now able to move bulk goods faster, cheaper, more efficiently and with less environmental impact, they have established a warm relationship with major customers, Opiyo said.
Transit times and costs for moving bulk goods to neighboring landlocked countries have also been reduced, bringing new vitality to regional supply chains, he said.
The SGR has improved Kenya’s trade with neighboring countries and provided an economic lifeline for East African Community member states, Mainga said.
In the past five years, the modern railroad has transported 20 million tons of freight and about 8 million passengers, elevating Kenya’s status as a regional manufacturing, trade and logistics hub, he noted.
“I have to say we’re lucky. We are exporting more and diversifying goods than before. We are seeing dynamic change because of what SGR is doing in terms of export,” he said.
The Mombasa-Nairobi SGR is expected to contribute 2-3 percent to Kenya’s GDP, Mainga said, adding that the railway has become a dominant player in Kenya’s quest for inclusive growth as it revolutionizes passenger and bulk goods transportation, trade Has stimulated investment and encouraged job creation for local youth.
Photo taken on July 20, 2022 shows the Nairobi National Park Super Major Bridge equipped with noise barriers along the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway in Nairobi, Kenya. (Afristar/Handout via Xinhua)
MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING, RESPECT, TRUST
According to Mainga, the SGR also benefits local people as the transfer of skills has reached 80-90 percent.
“Now our people are able to run operations, drive their locomotives, continue with signal work, repair and maintain our wagons,” he said.
Harrison Kinyanjui, a 26-year-old economist hired by SGR operator Afristar Railway Operation Company in 2017, received rigorous training in railway operations and management from Chinese tutors and quickly became the first Kenyan to work at the SGR dispatch center in Nairobi.
Kinyanjui, the center’s current deputy superintendent, said her job is to organize train operations using a centralized traffic management system at the center, which is “the brain and heart for all SGR train operations.”
“The Chinese experts taught us very well. They now have the confidence to let us work independently and we’re very, very proud that we came here without knowing anything about train dispatching, but we’re very competent now,” he said.
“You see that the Kenyan government and the Chinese government are working together. We would like to thank both governments for the support they have given us,” Mainga said.
Chinese instructor Yang Ming (L) and his Kenyan apprentice Concilia inspect the locomotive March 22, 2021 in Nairobi, Kenya. (Source: Xinhua/Li Yan)
As Afristar is committed to prioritizing safe operations, promoting the movement of people and goods, and improving localization, SGR’s socio-economic results have won trust and recognition from the Kenyan government and people, said Li Jiuping, general manager of Afristar , told Xinhua.
“To create high-performing Sino-Kenyan teams, Afristar promotes cross-cultural working relationships and encourages mutual understanding, respect and trust,” said Li.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is the first visiting head of state to travel with Kenya’s SGR in March 2019. He said the improved efficiency in cargo handling has been beneficial to Kenya’s economy as well as Uganda and other countries that depend on the Port of Mombasa for import and export, including Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Under the Sino-Africa Cooperation Forum, the SGR is among many Sino-Kenya infrastructure cooperation projects leading Sino-Africa cooperation, Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Zhou Pingjian told Xinhua.
The first train of the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) arrives at the Nairobi Terminus in Nairobi, Kenya, May 31, 2017. (Xinhua/Chen Cheng)
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION A PRIORITY
Before the start of the SGR project, there were fears that the railway would harm biodiversity as it would meander through Tsavo National Park, Kenya’s oldest and largest nature reserve, home to such famous species as elephants, giraffes and zebras.
To ensure their safety, the SGR contractor built electric fences on both sides of the route and wide underpasses at short intervals to facilitate their movement.
In addition to wild animals, the mangrove forests are also well protected. Ali Mohamed, a 44-year-old resident of a quiet village overlooking a mangrove swamp on Mombasa’s northwestern edge, said that in addition to controlling coastal weather, the installation of flyovers and culverts has ensured minimal disturbance to the mangrove forest. which is an important fish hatchery.
“I visited the SGR when its construction began and witnessed the restoration of previously degraded parts of the mangrove forest in our area,” said Mohamed, also founder of Bidii Creek Conservancy, a green lobby based in Mombasa.
The SGR has provided best practices for linking nature conservation and infrastructure development, he said.
Five years after its inception, the SGR has received awards from local officials and conservationists for prioritizing environmental protection along its corridor.
A freight train travels on the route of the Mombasa-Nairobi railway bypassing the mangroves in Mombasa, Kenya, July 27, 2022. (Xinhua/Dong Jianghui)
Nancy Githaiga, country director for Kenya at the Nairobi-based African Wildlife Foundation, said the wildlife conservation efforts initiated by the SGR contractor should inform future efforts to develop mega-infrastructure projects while protecting the integrity of Kenya’s biodiversity hotspots.
The green ethos has been placed at the heart of SGR operations, bringing benefits to local communities in terms of clean air and serene landscapes, Mainga said.
The design and execution of the project complied with local environmental protection laws and ensured a healthy relationship between the contractor and the local community, said Cosmas Makewa, Station Master at Mombasa SGR Terminus.
Unlike trucks, SGR trains traveling down the corridor have not emitted smoke into the atmosphere, fueling Kenya’s quest for improved air quality, Makewa said.
According to Leopold Omondi, an activist with the Nairobi-based Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, the SGR project has highlighted the viability of China’s vision of an ecological civilization. (Video Reporters: Liu Chang, Li Cheng, Ruth; Video Editors: Ma Ruxuan, Zhu Jianhui, Hui Peipei) ■