The standard gauge railway (SGR) is Kenya’s single-largest infrastructure investment since the British built the old Kenya-Uganda railway in the 1900s.
More importantly, it is only a matter time before Kenyans begin paying for the piece of infrastructure costing billions of shillings. Indeed, the repayment schedule will most likely test the economy than ever before.
The most acknowledged benefit of the new railway, whose first phase is set to be completed by June next year, is that it will cut travel time for passengers as the new locomotives will cover the 480 kilometres from Nairobi to Mombasa in half the 10 hours it currently takes.
That will encourage travel to and from Mombasa and boost the economy considerably. Needless to add, the most benefits will accrue through quicker cargo turnaround.
However, for the public to realise swift and lasting benefits from the new railway, besides getting buses and trucks off Mombasa Road, it must be complemented by faster commuting to the city centre.
Right now, the state is counting on a station in Syokimau, next to the current inefficient town commuter station, to disperse commuters. Kenya Railways says it will increase coaches to and from the city centre.
But obviously that is unlikely to end the hellish state of affairs on the urban part of Mombasa Road. This should be the government’s priority even as it focuses on long distance commuting and cargo transportation.
It will not make a lot of sense if passengers to and from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and other areas experience nightmares and spend hours trying to access the airport and other zones.
The Syokimau railway needs to be replaced by an exclusive line that does not run on the old cargo railway route. It also needs to run more frequently than is the case now.
Granted, the State has other long-term solutions including road expansion and light railway for Mombasa Road, but it should admit that the current situation is a crisis that would have made more economic sense to solve with the mega project.
At the same time, it would make economic sense to clearly link the new railroad with industries.