Disquiet as Sh153bn Nairobi to Naivasha railway project begins

Phase 2A of the standard gauge railway.
President Uhuru Kenyatta launches Phase 2A of the standard gauge railway at Em-bulbul, Kajiado County, on October 26,2016. PHOTO/PSCU
President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday launched construction of the Nairobi-Naivasha railway, amid rising opposition to its proposed passage through the Nairobi National Park.

The 120km railway, which will cost Sh153 billion, is facing growing resistance from activists who argue that a 6.7km bridge to be built on the park will adversely affect the animals, hence the need to re-route the line.

But in response to mounting concerns, President Kenyatta ruled out re-routing of the line saying that the facility will neither affect the animals nor interfere with the park’s ecology.

“The construction of the railway must go on and we want them (activists) to stop inciting and going to court. Let us build the railway because Kenya wants to move on,” Mr Kenyatta said.

The launch of the project has triggered tension among various State agencies considering that the National Environmental Tribunal has already suspended its execution following a petition by activist Okiya Omtatah.

In his petition, Mr Omtatah accused the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) of failing to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the project that is set to link the proposed Olkaria special economic zones to Nairobi and Mombasa to allow smooth flow of imports and exports.

The Kenya Railways, however, maintains that the park is the best and cheapest route as it will not involve exorbitant land compensation costs.

“The park is the most ideal route. If we had cheaper choices we would have taken those,” Kenya Railways managing director Atanas Maina said in an interview.

Mr Maina added that Kenya Railways had submitted the project’s EIA study to Nema and were awaiting to be granted a licence.

The Nairobi-Naivasha railway, which will be undertaken by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), is an extension of the Sh327 billion Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway that is earmarked for completion by December.

At Sh153 billion, each kilometre of the new line will cost Sh1.28 billion compared to Sh692 million for the Mombasa-Nairobi line – which Kenyan MPs complained was an overpriced contract.

The high cost of the project has been blamed on the rough terrain of the Rift Valley escarpments.

“The rough terrain is going to make the second phase of construction very expensive because of the many tunnels that will be required in order to connect between the escarpments,” Transport secretary James Macharia said in an earlier interview.

Mr Macharia said that the cost of the project is pegged to the amount of work that will be involved and the distance that will be covered.

The segment, which comprises what is termed as Phase 2A, will have over twenty tunnels that will make the design work more expensive as they will be required to achieve a certain gradient to connect to the next sections.

The tunnels will cover 23 per cent of the total distance and are estimated to cost Sh18.2 billion.