President Kenyatta later rode on the new train, dubbed Madaraka Express, from Mombasa to Nairobi – a journey that has now been shortened from a typical eight hours to four and a half.
On Tuesday the president inaugurated the Chinese-built Sh372 billion railway, hailing it as “a wonderful and a new experience that we will be bringing to all Kenyans at an affordable price”.
“This is a true beginning of our transformation and ultimately Kenyans from all corners will begin to see the benefits, not just from this rail but the ancillary activities that will begin to develop as a result of us developing this line and its continuation to Kisumu,” President Kenyatta said.
The tight deadline set during the November 28, 2013 launch made the project a race against time and workers had to make a lot of sacrifices including working at night.
“Every three months, the president would convene a meeting of all stakeholders, including the China Road and Bridge Corporation. The senior executives from China would fly here as a matter of duty and come and sit with us where each party would account to what extent they have been successful in implementing their accountabilities,” Mr Macharia said.
Focus is now shifting to the second phase, from Nairobi to Naivasha, which Mr Macharia anticipates will be a bit more challenging due to the very rough terrain of the Great Rift Valley.
The project, which has been under construction since November 2013, is 472.3 kilometres long – 442.6 kilometres of which run at grade and the remaining 29.7 kilometres comprising the total bridge length.
The Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway project is 90 per cent funded by the China Exim Bank, with Kenya financing the remaining 10 per cent.
The railway line is designed with an axleload of 25 tonnes and is expected to move up to 22 million tonnes of cargo per year at a speed of 80-100km/hr for freight trains. Passenger trains are, on the other hand, expected to achieve speeds of up to 120km/hr.
The second phase of the Mombasa-Nairobi railway, which is set to cost Sh153 billion, will extend to Naivasha and will eventually be extended to Malaba, western Kenya, from where it will link up with the Uganda SGR line and ultimately extend to Kigali in Rwanda.
In November, the government announced fresh plans for the electrification of the Mombasa-Nairobi line, which will cost Sh49 billion.
Transport and Infrastructure CS James Macharia said 609 kilometres of railway track would be made electric following a deal reached with Uganda and Rwanda.