The Kenya Railways is targeting to serve up to 230,000 passengers a day when the expansion project of the Nairobi Commuter Rail network is complete at the end of June.
To achieve this, the Kenya Railways is engaged in the construction of Commuter Stations at Kikuyu, Embakasi Village, Pipeline, Donholm, Dandora, Kahawa, Ruiru, Athi River, Githurai, and Mwiki.
The corporation is also in the process of rehabilitating the Thika–Nanyuki railway line which is part of the old Metre Gauge Railway (MGR).
The MGR traverses six counties namely; Nairobi, Kiambu, Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Nyeri, and Laikipia.
The Nairobi Commuter Railway network serves the Kenya capital and its environs.
Kenya Railways has already purchased 11 sets of Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) which are also expected to be shipped into the country by the end of next month for the Nairobi Commuter railway.
This will be a massive improvement in the service of the Commuter train whose capacity is currently at between 11,000 to 15,000 passengers per day.
Kenya Railways management says it has had its fair share of challenges in the handling of passengers during this period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to the measures taken to fight the spread of the pandemic, the commuter train has had to cut down on its services.
“Currently, an average of between 3000-5000 passengers are transported daily from a high of 15000 before the pandemic.
“This is as a result of adherence to the 60% occupancy directive by government, social distancing inside the train coaches and stations and with the restrictions on movement guidelines (curfew) which necessitated a revision of the timetables,” said Phillip Mainga, the New Managing Director of the Kenya Railways.
The reduction in the passengers, Mainga says has resulted in proportional shrinkage in revenue.
According to Mainga the Kenya Railways Management has put in place measures to protect staff and the commuters from the COVID-19 including; installation of wash hand basins in the major stations, sanitization booth at the Nairobi Central Station, display and public announcement on awareness for social distancing and hygiene, issuance of masks, sanitizers and gloves to staff, cleaning and sanitizing of the commuter trains after every trip.
He says sanitizers are provided in areas where no handwashing facilities are available.
The Nairobi Commuter Rail Service (NCR) was introduced in May 1992 in response to a series of strikes by the Matatu minibus operators.
But over the years, there has been a low level of demand which according to the new managing director has been due to poor standards of the station’s facilities.
“The NCR market share has been less than one per cent of the total daily commuters in Nairobi, largely because of the Stations facilities which are below standard, Slow service due to speed restrictions as a result of rail flaws, gauge variations, foundation failure, degradation of track geometry and Low level of supply with a fleet of only five (5) old locomotives and inadequate coaches resulting in rolling stock breakdowns and reduced reliability, and severe overcrowding.”
“These challenges have now been addressed and it is our projection that upon completion of the infrastructure rehabilitation and improvement works, the service is expected to be enhanced by increasing the number of daily trips, increasing trains speeds and reduce travel times, increasing the operational fleet and reliability, improving security and accessibility at stations and halts and providing efficient, safety-critical and reliable signal and control systems.”
At the same time, the Nairobi Railway expansion which has cost upwards of Ksh 27 billion has seen over 170 hectares of land being repossessed and gazette by the government.
Part of the land covers Haile Selassie Avenue, Uhuru Highway, Bunyala Road, Commercial Street and Landhies Road, to pave way for the Railway City project.
When he was appointed in January this year Mainga ordered individuals who have encroached on railway reserve land within Nairobi and its environs to give way for the implementation of the Nairobi Railway master plan.
In the master plan, Kenya Railways is set to redesign and construct a massive transport hub on part of the 273- acre railway headquarters land as well as flyover links to major roads across Nairobi.
The project will be a complementary functional, architectural and urban centrepiece to Nairobi’s growing global reputation.
This CBD railway project is closely linked to the implementation of a related master plan, the Embakasi Station Area Redevelopment Master Plan around Syokimau Railway Station.
This project presents an opportunity for the zone to be transformed into a business hub and a gateway to the city of Nairobi.
Mainga replaced Atanas Maina as the Managing Director of the giant yet trouble ridden corporation in January this year.
Maina was in August 2018 arrested together with national Land Commission Mohammed Swazuri over corruption allegations on the compensation of the Standard Gauge Railway.
According to the director of public prosecutions, taxpayers’ money was lost in fraudulent compensation for five pieces of public land the government acquired to build the railway.
Mainga was the business research and general manager at KRC before he took up the position of managing director in an acting capacity in 2018 and later confirmed in January this year by Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia.
“My mission is to rebuild Kenya Railways projects and make the corporation financially stable,” Mainga says.
BY ODINDO AYIEKO