Uganda has protested the decision by Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) to offload 40 containers bound for Kampala on the Kenyan side of the Malaba border crossing, in total disregard for transit traffic operating norms.
Kenya this week began trial runs for express freight train services from the port of Mombasa to Malaba, as it also seeks to offer seamless cargo transfers to Uganda’s ports of Jinja and Port Bell via Kisumu port vessels.
But now Kampala says it was not informed of the changes in Nairobi’s cargo traffic and is protesting “Kenya’s failure to implement agreed rail transit doctrines”.
Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) says the standard requires rail transit freight to be handed over to the destination rail operator, in this case URC, or delivered to the final destination.
“The transit rail doctrine states that rail freight cannot be unloaded before reaching its final destination,” said Abuberkerer Ochaki, operations manager of Uganda Railways Corporation (URC). The East African.
Connection on the last mile
This suggests that KRC should have delivered the cargo to Tororo, Uganda, Jinja or Kampala, Uganda’s main railway stations on the Northern Corridor.
Mr. Ochaki told The East African that URC will formally write to KRC to complain about the latter’s failure to implement agreed rail transport doctrines.
That means Huaye International Logistics, a Ugandan company whose cargo was transported to Malaba by rail, has to find alternatives for the last mile connection. Last Thursday, the cargo was still stuck in Malaba, Kenya.
However, Uganda Shippers Council chairman Charles Kareba said it was not entirely true that URC was picking up on issues with Kenya Railways.
Instead, he advised URC to expedite the redevelopment of the Jinja-Kampala section of meter gauge to allow for smooth cargo movement from the Port of Mombasa to Kampala.
“URC cannot use its new locomotives on this critical section of the meter gauge railway line. The line needs to be refurbished and upgraded for the new engines,” said Mr. Kareba.
The back-and-forth between the two countries comes as China proposed a major infrastructure plan for the Horn of Africa that would include upgrading the two major railways — Kenya’s standard-gauge railway and the Ethiopia-Djibouti line — to Uganda and Eritrea, respectively, with the development of ports on Red Sea and Indian Ocean in Mombasa Harbour.
According to proposals announced during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Kenya last week, the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR will be expanded to include Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and eventually the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mr Wang also said the line linking the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with Djibouti will be extended to Eritrea, but that both plans will only come to fruition “in due course”.
“We must see faster development of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean to develop a framework of ‘two axes plus two coasts’,” the Chinese minister said.
This change of heart by Beijing to extend these projects, however, comes at a time when Kenya and Ethiopia, despite initial doubts about their viability, are struggling with loan repayments for the first phase of their railways, even as Kampala struck a deal with another Chinese firm to refurbish the meter gauge railway from Malaba to Kampala.
On Wednesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta received Uganda’s first son Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba at the Naivasha Inland Container Depot to witness the transfer of containerized cargo from the SGR to the Meter Gauge Railway (MGR) for onward transport to Malaba on the Kenya-Uganda border.
The President welcomed the “partnership between Kenya Railways Corporations and Kenya Ports Authority for the successful implementation of the container transshipment project from SGR to MGR”.
Last May, Uganda and Kenya joined forces to push ahead with the rehabilitation and seamless connection of the old metre-gauge railway line. Kenya has since upgraded its meter gauge line from Naivasha to Malaba, and began passenger services to Kisumu in December.
“The idea is to ensure that we have smooth operation of the meter gauge railway line from Naivasha to Kampala. So we thought it made sense that Uganda needed to do the same for their lineage to complete this project. The Uganda agreement with the contractor is to do this in the shortest possible time to ensure the line works for business people all the way to Kampala,” Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Transport and Infrastructure James Macharia told The EastAfrican in a previous interview .
But even as Kenya attempts to ship the cargo to Malaba, rehabilitation work on the 160-mile (260 km) meter-gauge Malaba-Kampala line has stalled. The China Road and Bridge Corporation was awarded the contract.
Mr Ochaki said the contractor is expected to complete the work in 12 months.
The construction of the Tororo–Gulu section has been awarded to Vinci Group’s subsidiaries, namely Sogea Satom and the ETF. The two companies will replace the entire section of the 375 km meter gauge line with a standard gauge line.
They will also be responsible for the production and installation of 200,000 cubic meters of crushed stone, as well as replacing and repairing sleepers, rails and fasteners.
In August last year, Kampala approved US$376 million for the 215 km Malaba-Kampala metre-gauge railway rehabilitation project. It also approved an additional $12 million investment to purchase eight locomotives for the route and an additional $2.5 million for routine repairs throughout the network.
Uganda’s goal is to shift freight from road to rail and expects to move six million tonnes a year. It is also aiming to reduce rail transport costs from 13 US cents to five to seven US cents per net tonne-kilometer.
This week, Nairobi said that from March this year it plans to ship cargo destined for Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and parts of eastern DRC, which accounts for 30 percent of imports and exports, through the Port of Mombasa on its renovated railway.
KRC chief executive Philip Mainga said direct shipment of cargo will begin after all loose ends have been sorted out.
“The connection, which underpins seamless and efficient rail service along the Northern Corridor, will be completed in the next few weeks. The integration of the SGR and MGR lines will improve the flow of cargo directly from the port to the hinterland serving Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and parts of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo,” said Mr. Mainga.
“Our customers will now enjoy smooth cargo transportation from the Port of Mombasa to Malaba and onward to the East African region in a safe, reliable and cost-effective manner,” he added.
Kenya said the railway line offers safety, efficiency and reliability. It also reduces reliance on road transport on the 572km route, allowing hauliers and importers to collect their cargo in Malaba 36 hours after the train departs from Mombasa, and importers have the choice to use the Malaba to Kampala railway.
This comes at a time when the Kenyan government is grappling with how to increase efficiency at the Naivasha Inland Container Depot, which has an annual capacity of 120,000 20-foot units (TEUS).
KRC has now scheduled eight trains to operate on the refurbished Naivasha-Malaba meter gauge line, connecting to the Mombasa-Naivasha SGR.
The Shippers Council of East Africa has called Kenya’s cargo movement game-changing, but only if ports and rail agencies work at their best to ensure efficiency.
“Importers consider cost and efficiency. If the shipment arrives on time at the cheapest price, they will go for it. The introduction of the railroad is what we have been pushing for as it offers importers an alternative mode of transport for their cargo,” said CEO Gilbert Lagat, adding: “Despite the protests, the railroad has proven to reduce instances of lost cargo as it there is less diversion of loads instead of trucks.”
However, the express rail service from Mombasa to Malaba has been criticized by transport sector operators, with truckers urging Nairobi not to make use of the service mandatory but to allow freedom of choice in choosing the means of transport.
Carriers also demand transparency.
“KRC is issuing misleading information about freight transportation while trying to lure more importers into using the freight trains. The government does not share with importers the cost and time involved in last mile cargo transportation as KRC has proven incompetent in cargo handling,” said Newton Wang’oo, chairman of the Kenya Transporters Association.
“We will oppose any move to oblige importers to use meter gauge trains to carry cargo, as this violates a court ruling requiring importers’ freedom of choice,” Mr Wang’oo said.
Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association chairman Roy Mwanthi said KRC could make an encouraging offer to ship cargo to Malaba, but they needed to adopt a reverse strategy to ensure containers are brought back on time.
“The promotional prices are good, but how will they deal with the freight at the end of the rail? There is no last mile strategy and how to return empty containers as opposed to using trucks. This could cause delays in returning empties as demurrage charges increase,” Mr Mwanthi said.
The railway agency said it intends to offer end-to-end rail delivery to Uganda’s Jinja and Port Bell ports via the Kisumu port and the direct main line through Naivasha-Malaba-Kampala.
To attract more users, the government has offered 30-day free warehousing and fast freight handling and railcar transshipment.
Last December, KRC announced promotional tariffs for meter gauge freight transportation, charging container freight from Mombasa to Malaba for a 20-foot container weighing 0 to 30 tons at USD 860 and for a container over 30 tons at USD 960. Shipping a 40ft container weighing 0 to 30 tons will cost US$1,110 while containers over 30 tons will be charged US$1,260 via SGR/MGR seamless network.
Currently, shipping containers via the SGR network from Mombasa to Nairobi costs US$500 for a 20ft container weighing 0-30 tons and US$600 for a container weighing over 30 tons. On the other hand, it costs USD 630 to transport a 40-foot container weighing 0 to 30 tons, and USD 780 for containers weighing over 30 tons.
KRC charges USD 450 to transport a 20ft export container from Malaba to Mombasa (down direction) via SGR/MGR network and USD 690 for a 40ft container. Shipping an empty 20ft container and 40ft container costs US$100 and US$150 respectively.