Track laying work has finally begun on the Sh327bn Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway, setting in motion a project that is expected to decongest the port of Mombasa.
This follows the arrival last week of the first batch of rail metal from China and the installation of requisite camps and raw material factories by the contractor, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC).
Two factories that will be used to lay the rail line, produce reinforced concrete sleepers, T-beams and ballast have been completed at Emali and Kathekani – with similar sites planned in Samburu (Kwale), Mtito Andei and Nairobi.
Sleepers are blocks that support the rails in rail-road tracks while T-beams are used to reinforce bridges.
Bridges will account for about 30km of the 472km railway and will be used to span valleys, cross roads and areas where the standard gauge railway crosses the existing metre gauge railway line. This will include a 2km bridge over the Tsavo River.
“At Tsavo National Park, we will be building eight corridors for elephants to pass under the line. These will be seven metres high and 50 metres long each,” said Maxwell Mengich, a Kenya Railways official.
CRBC, which had hired 5,377 workers by end of November, recently announced that it will employ 30,000 Kenyans to build the railway – with staff ranging from engineering, technical and operations personnel.
Construction of the Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway was scheduled to begin early last year but that did not happen as the project was hit with a cascade of legal and financial issues shortly after its official launch in November 2013.
Most of the issues have since been solved, with the government committing Sh10 billion to compensate landowners affected by the project.
A total of Sh4.9 billion has been paid out to the affected persons.
The standard gauge railway, whose completion date has been brought forward to June 2017 from 2018, will carry freight trains at speeds of up to 80km/hour and passenger trains at up to 120km/hour.
A standard gauge railway has a distance of 56.5 inches between its rails or between the wheels of a train.
The project is 90 per cent funded by the China Exim Bank, with the Kenyan government financing the remaining 10 per cent.
The Mombasa-Nairobi line is expected to be extended to Malaba, western Kenya, into Uganda and ultimately to Kigali in Rwanda.
The viability of the railway line that will be built according to the Chinese railway designs is based on the assumption that it will be part of a seamless system linking Kenya with Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda.