Category Archives: SGR

SGR enters the Nairobi National Park

Kenya’s National Land Commission (NLC) has again published a list of land titles it is seeking to acquire on behalf of Kenya Railways for the construction of Phase 2A of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) between Nairobi and Naivasha.

The parcels are in the counties of Kiambu, Kajiado, Nakuru, and Narok. Big winners include Kedong Ranch Ltd as they will be compensated for three huge land parcels (measuring 35.7 hectares, 13.01 hectares, and 100.65 hectares) that were previously listed as being belonging from Morning Side Heights,  Ruaraka Housing Estate, and Morningside Heights respectively. Another is Kiambu Western Grazing Area from who the NLC will purchase 146.8 hectares.

Big losers include the Nairobi National Park which is managed by Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) and which is billed as the only national park within a capital city in the world which will lose loses 41.3 hectares (about 102 acres) which will be hived from land title – L.R. 10758 that was reserved.  The Nairobi National Park was originally 28,950 acres in 1961 when a 999-year lease was granted to Trustees of the Royal Nairobi Parks. Another loser will be Oloolua Forest 17.3 hectares (about 43 acres) to the railway, at a time when Kenyans are concerned about depletion of forests.There have been news reports that construction work for the SGR has commenced in the Nairobi National Park park in the last few weeks.

Construction through the park had been contested for some time, and back in November 2016, a session was held at the Strathmore Business School where Kenya Railways staff met wildlife conservation groups, and concerned residents, to explain issues like the intent of the government, justification for the SGR, land rights, the railway route, land acquisition cost, feasibilities done, stakeholders consultations, impact on wildlife, environmental and community impact etc.

Alternative routes map from Save Nairobi National Park (“SNNP”)

Athanas Maina, MD of Kenya Railways said that it was not possible to follow the corridor of the old (British) railway, which would not be funded and whose terrain was difficult – and that they had considered seven different routes through which the new railway could exit Nairobi to pass through a crucial tunnel at Ngong. They had settled on a “modified savannah” option and the new SGR railway would loop back from the Inland Container Depot at Embakasi, and go over six kilometers of the Nairobi National Park. This would be achieved by constructing elevated bridges in three stages, and running the railway elevated at an average height of eighteen (18) metres over the park with noise defectors and that construction would be completed in 18 months.

The acting Chairman of the Friends of the Nairobi National Park said that if there was a conflict between conservation vs development,  it is because of a lack of planning and consultation, while another representative spoke of continuous assaults on the Nation National Park over the years with demands for the park to cede more land for construction of the Southern bypass highway, oil pipeline, and fibre cables among others.

Maina said that exact route that the railway would follow remained a secret as many people wanted the line to pass on their land to make money – speculating on land at any cost and waiting for the government project to come – and pointed to the LAPSSET projects that had been derailed demands for land compensation. (Elsewhere it has been reported that landowners in the Konza area got Kshs 3 million (~$30,000) per acre of undeveloped land that was acquired for phase one of the SGR). Another resident said that the park’s main threat was  not the SGR, but individuals who were privatizing land, along wildlife corridors, south of the park for housing and quarrying and cited the Jamii Bora development case

Finally, a letter from Richard Leakey, Chairman of the KWS, was read out in which he said that the SGR would have minimal impact on Nairobi National Park, and mainly during the two years of construction. He added that some conservationists had opposed fencing the southern part of the park for many years because wildlife species migrate through there, and if the railway was laid and fenced there, outside the park, it would cut off wildlife from accessing the park. That ended the debate, that day.

First Class: Kenya Railways vs SGR

This is the first class cabin of the lunatic express, the 120-year-old Kenya Railways line (operated by Rift Valley Railways – RVR), that the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is meant to improve on. The cabins are about 40 years old; they are mostly used by tourists or adventurous travelers and families taking scenic journeys to and from the Coast or Rift Valley.
It was disappointing to see pictures from Kenya Railways of what #SGR “first class” will be – it looks like a third class with swivels seats – this after a $3.2 billion mega-project?. Yes, the trains will move faster, but apparently, they won’t go too fast because this is Kenya where they may encounter people or wildlife on the tracks. 

By looking at this chart of train cabin seats in China, KR is a correct, but the first class of China and the new SGR is not the same as the first class on the old (RVR)/Kenya Railways. China has first, second, and business class (which has lie flat seats) like an aircraft – but no economy class.

What we know as the first class of the old Kenya railways, qualifies as a luxurious “sleeper coach” in China which offers privacy and comfort. SGR Journeys will be faster, perhaps 5 hours from Nairobi to Mombasa compared to the current train service by RVR which takes 15-20 hours. The  train is also used by hundreds of residents who live in small towns along the railway and who will appreciate the improved new cabins.

But will Kenya Railways offer some new sleeper cabins to improve on the old railway service? The Kenya Economic Survey 2016 shows there has been a continuous decline in rail passenger indicators of journey, passenger-km and revenue. The major reason is prioritizing on the freight, which is more profitable than passengers’ services hence the available locomotives are prioritized to freight.

Nairobi-Mombasa Highway Transforms

For a long time, motorists on the road trip to Mombasa had endless savannah and semi-arid brush-land as their only view, with few sizeable towns and centres along the highway. Many travelers would drive the long stretch between Nairobi-Mtito Andei or even up to Voi, before deigning to stop for refreshments and use of sanitation facilities at what were mostly only petrol station joints. Many of the Colonial era taverns and Inns along the Highway had fallen either into disrepair or closed completely. And a night in Voi meant accessing the adjacent Tsavo East National Park to stay in Voi Safari Lodge.

Not anymore. Recent events have led to a great change in the landscape along the Highway. Sure the great vast ranches of Konza are still largely intact but urban development has become a major feature of the highway with numerous new centres expanding and what were once junction centres now turning into overnight stop points or places of bustling with 24-hour economic activity. A number of factors have contributed to these developments and are manifested in some of the features observed.

Konza City: Previously tiny centres such as Kyumvi (Chumvi) or the Machakos turnoff have now become major truck stops. Investors have established vehicle sales centres nearby and the price of land is sky rocketing going by rough quotations one receives. Further along is Malili centre which sprung up once news of the plan publicized by the grand coalition government about a new Technological (ICT) city to be built at Konza, that was meant to take away pressure of land and space from Nairobi. The city was touted as a Kenya’s Silicon Valley and out of nowhere, Malili town sprung up right next to the borders of the proposed, but yet to be built, Techno-City.

Standard Gauge Railway (SGR):  This is Kenya’s single largest investment in infrastructure. As is widely known, the project replaces the old Uganda Railway (also known as the Lunatic Line) from Mombasa to Uganda. The first phase starts from Mombasa to Nairobi with advanced plans to extend it first to Naivasha and then to Kisumu and Malaba. When the SGR is done, the railway will need return cargo i.e from Western Kenya or Nairobi to Mombasa to be viable, and to get more trucks off the road.

Whatever the merits or demerits of this project is not for debate here but what must be stated are the numerous economic activities and developments that have been brought about by this project.

As the SGR is constructed, groups of the thousands of workers involved must be watered, fed, housed, clothed, transported, treated and entertained along the route. This direct and multiplier effect of the project is an indication of heavy spending. Elevated sections of the railway are a sight to behold especially for one who has not travelled the route for a long time. Major site stations chosen include Makindu, a town whose most distinct feature is the Sikh Temple. A Skygo motor cycle assembly factory is one of the new investments set up by a local born and bred entrepreneur, while new entertainment joints such as Shushan Place and Oasis have emerged. emali

At Emali, Nakumatt, Kenya’s largest Supermarket chain by sales volume, products variety and retail outlets has deigned it fit to set up shop. The petrol station eateries of Mtito Andei which marks the half way stop between Nairobi and Mombasa have changed tremendously. Weary travellers alighting from luxury coaches can now relax in massage chairs. Voi town has also enjoyed a boom in construction of residential and commercial real estate that as previously unimaginable. These are all visible signs that there is money along the highway.

Oil Pipeline: Kenya is replacing its over 40-year-old Mombasa to Nairobi oil pipeline. This project has also attracted huge groups of workers contributing to the activity along the highways in camps and sections nearby.

Concrete Poles Not to be forgotten as a major activity is the replacement of old wooden electricity poles by the Kenya Power & Lighting Company with heavier concrete ones.Poles

Devolution: It is indeed true that devolution has brought major developments and investments in the towns along the highway. The County Governments have spent on setting up their structures and attempting to deliver services to their people; the heavy spending has indeed yielded change, and this has attracted new players even in the tourist sector at Tsavo. One such establishment is the Zomeni Lion Hill Lodge in Voi, 6 km outside town along the road to the Tsavo East National Park Gate which is run by the knowledgeable father and son duo of Basil and Agam. The lodge features 8 rooms and 4 tented rooms with delightful views of the vast Tsavo park. It is secured from wild animals by electric fence, and is one of the new joints that offer real variety to local and international tourists. There are two air strips ay Voi, one by KWS in the park

Lion Hill Conclusion: This article is not intended as a feel good piece but an appreciation of tremendous changes that have taken place along the highway. The writer has not spent time in many of the centres and towns to appreciate other factors such as the availability or lack of water, sanitation, waste management or security among others let alone whether much of this development is affordable, planned or sustainable.

But for long time travelers, it may be worth it skipping that flight to Mombasa and instead taking a day long drive and appreciate the changes that have taken place along the highway. Although the Mariakani Weighbridge headache is ever-present, newer routes into Mombasa or the South Coast are opening up. Both County and National Government are endeavoring to create alternatives through Kaloleni to the North Coast and Samburu to the South Coast.

Today’s children will never know what the old highway looked like before, e.g why Man-Eaters was named so, or appreciate that the drive down to the Coast used to be about five hours only (it now takes about 10 hours to drive between Nairobi and Mombasa)  or why is the lane going towards Mombasa is smoother than the uneven lane climbing towards Nairobi. But who else to tell the story than their parents when caught for speeding between Mtito-Andei and Voi by the NTSA?