Kenya, Uganda plan new railway to Mombasa port

Kenya and Uganda plan to build a new railway from the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa to cope with increased trade between the east African countries and their landlocked neighbours, officials said on Tuesday.

The two countries are now served by a metre-gauge track built at the turn of the 20th century and officials say it carries less than 6% of freight destined for Kenya’s interior and countries in the region.

“The need for a standard gauge railway is of paramount importance not only for these two economies, but the economies of other landlocked countries in east Africa,” said Kenyan Transport Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere.

The importance of Kenya’s links to other east African countries was highlighted early last year when post-election violence in the region’s biggest economy choked trade.

Mwakwere told a meeting of Ugandan and Kenyan government officials that Mombasa handled more than 16-million tonnes of cargo annually and this was expected to rise to 30-million tonnes a year by 2030.

“The existing metre gauge railway is overwhelmed in terms of capacity and speed,” he said, adding it would cost $500-million over five years to restore the line to its full capacity of five million tonnes a year. “Even then its capacity would still be grossly inadequate,” Mwakwere said.

The railway handled less than the 6% of cargo passing through the Northern Corridor—linking Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, parts of Tanzania, south Sudan and Ethiopia—as at the end of 2007.

The main highway from Mombasa to Kenya’s capital Nairobi and on to Kampala is clogged with heavily-laden lorries.

Long overdue
Mwakwere put the cost of constructing the new railway at about $3,5-billion and said the two governments were still working on how to structure the financing options.

He said Kenya and Uganda would conduct a $10-million feasibility study, with Kenya providing $8-million of this.

Uganda, however, wants to move straight to the design stage, saying it costs 10 US cents per kilometre tonne to transport goods by rail to Uganda, compared with one US cent for the equivalent in China and two cents in the United States.

“This line is long overdue. We are convinced it’s feasible,” said John Nasasira, Uganda’s minister for works and transport.

The line would extend to Rwanda, Ethiopia, southern Sudan and Burundi.
Mwakwere said it should be ready by 2017.

Years of mismanagement in Kenya and civil strife in Uganda have meant their governments have struggled to buy spare parts and maintain tracks and trains on the existing railway.

Rift Valley Railways, a consortium led by South Africa’s Sheltam Trade Close, won a concession to run the Kenya and Uganda Railways jointly for 25 years from November 2006. Mwakwere said the new railway line would not affect this. - Reuters

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