Eyeing growth boost, Kenya opens Chinese-built railway

President Uhuru Kenyatta has on Wednesday officially inaugurated Kenya's largest infrastructure project, the Sh372 billion standard gauge railway line at Miritini in Mombasa County.

Kenya has opened a major new railway between the port city of Mombasa and the capital, Nairobi.

Terming it as "a new chapter" in the history of Kenya, the president said the modern railway will replace the meter gauge railway that was constructed more than 100 years ago during the British colonial rule.

The Chinese government-owned Export-Import Bank of China funded 90 percent of the railway project, while Kenya's government chipped in 10 percent.

The Madaraka express is one of the biggest infrastructural projects to be carried in Kenya, since its independence.

The railway offers a welcome alternative to Kenya's most risky road journey on a one-lane highway clogged with lumbering trucks, which can take up to two days to deliver cargo.

There will be two types of Madaraka Express passenger service, with the Intercity Train running non-stop from Mombasa to Nairobi and the County Train calling at the intermediate stations of Mariakani, Miasenyi, Voi, Mtito Andei, Kibwezi, Emali and Athi River.

A woman photographs a zebra while taking a train to Nairobi, on May 29, 2017 in Mombasa.

Critics have said the project is overpriced and could be a conduit for corruption.

However, the Kenyan government and the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), which oversaw the project, have brushed off these worries with the CRBC explaining that the migration patterns of the animals were accounted for in the railway's design thanks to the input of local rangers and zoologists.

Kenyatta also took time to praise the efforts of the builders.

The railroad is expected to eventually link cities across Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Ethiopia to the Indian Ocean.

Transport Minister James Macharia said, however, the government expects the railway to boost GDP by 1.5 percent, allowing them to pay back its loan from the Chinese "in about four years".

Poor infrastructure has hurt economic activity through much of Africa.

The railway will be managed by the Chinese contractor for five years, with 610 Chinese workers in charge, while Kenyans are trained to take over.

  • Zachary Reyes