Wednesday, June 7, 2017

SGR: The Rise of an Empire


Eclipsing the old pre-independence railway to a twittering old flame, the Standard Gauge Railway was over 1300 kilometers in length when it finally reached Malaba, in late 2010s, earmarking the initial phase of connecting the three neighboring countries mutual to the agreement including south Sudan, Rwanda and Uganda to Kenya.

With construction beginning in fall 2013,  the first phase ended in early 2017 before the president inaugurated the Madaraka Express train that made headway to Nairobi's depot on the eve of the country's freedom day on June 1 of the year.

Before its completion, the railway attracted eclectic views from both the populace and media alike. In tandem with construction was the relocation sagas along the line especially around Nairobi, in the first phase, and later along the Rift valley belt with some officials coming to book for soliciting bribes from families seeking compensation along the line. 

The immediate fact sheet of the construction of the railway dates back to 2009 when the country's  then regime ratified a memorandum with its then biggest East African trading counterpart, Uganda, to engineer a railway with modern gauges of less than a meter apart that would have electrical propulsion capabilities. There would follow a tripartite agreement pitting Rwanda to the prior ratification with the signing taking place in August, 2013.

The Chinese consortium that constructed the railway had to fulfill its mandate in several lines including one to Rwanda that had to hail at Kigali  by 2018 from its Mombasa initialization. The second line had to reach Kampala in proper infrastructural time via Malaba in Western Kenya from its initial phase of 2014. 

Upon completion of phase one, which received a lot of celebration due to, in part, high speed, low fare and acclimatization of most Kenyans' dreams to reach Mombasa in less than the minimum 8 hours it used to take buses to make it to the coast, the railway introduced sanity features to surface transportation in Kenya. For instance, the rail, running parallel most of the way with the then unruly, single track A109 highway to Mombasa, had beautiful, terra-cotta embankments, modern offices and accommodation villas, plus stations every regular number of kilometers, besides high rise flyover bridges running kilometers on end in some places, and the top cake of it all, the availability of an aerial electric line, all within a non-stop perimeter wall.

With funding coming from a China-based bank that provided ninety percent of the funding with the Kenya government settling the remainder, the financing of phase one alone, in 2017, was equal to almost an eighth of the country's gross budget for that year which stood at KSH2.6 trillion.

With perfect gradients and topographical maximization, the costly infrastructure project that was SGR ended the transportation deficit of delivering goods and passengers from the coast. It also created a more sustainable economic bloc that is modern-day East African Community (EAC).