The plan to connect the region through a railway network is inching towards reality, after Kenyan and Ugandan presidents met with Chinese officials this week, with reports that the two countries are likely to finalise a financing deal for the Kisumu-Malaba-Kampala stretch of the standard gauge railway soon.
Uganda has said that it will sign its final financing agreement for its SGR in September, to pave the way for the construction, which has been delayed for more than two years.
Kenya, which is depending on Kampala to secure joint funding for the Kisumu-Malaba stretch, has already started laying the tracks for the $1.5 billion second phase of the line between Nairobi and Naivasha.
This week, a Chinese delegation led by vice-premier Wang Yang and China Exim Bank chairperson Li Ruogo met with Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Yoweri Museveni. The agenda was to update the Chinese officials on the progress of the SGR projects in Kenya, and hold discussions on Uganda’s first phase.
The Chinese Exim Bank is the financier of the railway project for both Kenya and Uganda.
The financing deal between Uganda and China Exim Bank on the Malaba-Kampala line could be concluded in September, when the leaders are expected to visit Beijing for the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation.
The Chinese officials’ meeting with the Ugandan leadership came as Kampala intensified its efforts in renovating its metre gauge railway while it awaits a financing deal for the SGR.
“By July, the financing agreement made with the Chinese contractor and financier will be implemented and works are expected to start thereafter,” Uganda’s Prime Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, said after meeting the Chinese vice-premier.
Kenya however remained guarded on the discussions of the Nairobi meeting with the Chinese delegation.
“We shall be making certain requests, but at the moment I cannot divulge them,” said Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia after visiting the Kenya SGR Nairobi terminus with the Chinese officials. “Discussions are in progress, but I can tell you that Wang was excited with what he has seen.”
President Kenyatta was on Friday expected to inspect the progress of construction on the Nairobi-Naivasha stretch. The Kenyan project contractor, China Communications Construction Company, through its affiliate China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), said it was ahead of schedule with the project, which it expects to complete by June 2019.
“The launch of track laying and girder erecting signifies the project will transition from civil works to the next stage. So far the construction and erection of beams and the tunnel has progressed on smoothly,” said CRBC chairman Lu Shan.
The contractor said that the more than 380 spans of T-beams have been fabricated and each span will be made of two symmetrical sections. More than 80,000 rail sleepers have also been fabricated and will cover 40 kilometres of the track.
“As it is, we are constructing railway stations in Suswa, Ongata Rongai and Ngong towns. We shall also be completing the 4.5 kilometre tunnels in Ngong and Suswa by August this year,” the Chinese railway contractor’s spokesperson Steve Zhao said.
The 120km Phase 2A is expected to terminate in Naivasha and will be the first of the three segments that make up the second phase of the SGR between Nairobi and Malaba.
Kenya Railways managing director Atanas Maina said that so far, construction is 49 per cent complete.
“I am happy with the civil works undertaken by the contractor. The site clearance, top soil stripping to earthworks and protection of the line have all been done to our satisfaction,” said Mr Maina.
In the one year of its operation, more than one million passengers have used the SGR line, with the cargo segment which started operations in January this year, moving more than 800,000 tonnes of cargo.
“We shall soon be seeing increased cargo volumes, especially the bulk segment when we complete the port relief line by September. This will allow trains to access Berth 1 at the Mombasa port,” said Mr Maina.
Early this month, the contractor completed the 250 metres cross-bridge connecting the port of Mombasa and the SGR at the Mombasa terminus.
The bridge is part of the 2.7 km SGR port relief line that will cover Mombasa Ports’ 10 berths. Currently, the berths are connected to the SGR terminus via road, meaning cargo at the port is offloaded via cranes and is then ferried via trucks to the SGR line.
Uganda on the other hand is trying to juggle modernising its metre gauge railway and the initial works on its SGR project, currently at the land compensation stage.
Uganda Railways Corporation took over the operation of the metre gauge railway, after the Rift Valley Railways concession was terminated. Railway services on the eastern route resumed in February this year, while passenger rail service in the Kampala Metropolitan Area between Namanve and Kampala Stations was reinstated.
“We remain committed to the development of the SGR. Eight per cent of the right of way for the SGR has been acquired with 228 affected persons in Tororo having been paid. In the new financial year, additional land on the eastern route will be procured to facilitate the SGR right of way. Also, 42 wagons will be rehabilitated and bad spots along Port Bell will be repaired. The railway reserve boundaries will also be marked,” Uganda’s finance minister Matia Kasaija said last week.
In April, it tested the rehabilitated Port Bell to Kampala Railway Station line with a cargo train as part of ongoing plans to open new transport corridors. So far Kampala has spent $300,000 to rehabilitate this line, with the works involving the replacement of the rails and sleepers.
Source: TradeMark East Africa