Kenya Railways Corporation is developing a new standard gauge railway (SGR) line for passengers and cargo transportation between Mombasa, the largest port in East Africa, and Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya.

The new railway line constitutes the first phase of the SGR project that aims to connect Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.

The Mombasa-Nairobi SGR is the biggest infrastructure project in Kenya since independence. It will shorten the passenger travel time from Mombasa to Nairobi from more than ten hours to a little more than four hours. Freight trains will complete the journey in less than eight hours.

Construction of the 609km-long line began in October 2013 and is scheduled to be completed by December 2017. At least 60 new jobs a kilometre of track or approximately 30,000 jobs are expected to be created during the construction.

The Mombasa-Nairobi phase of the project is estimated to cost KES327bn ($3.8bn). China Exim Bank will provide 90% of the financing while the remaining 10% will be contributed by the Kenyan Government.

Details of the standard gauge railway project

The SGR project is proposed to connect Mombasa to Malaba on the border with Uganda and continue onward to Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. It will further run to Kigali in Rwanda with a branch line to Juba in South Sudan. Branch lines along the route will extend to Kisumu, Kasese and Pakwach.

The SGR is a flagship project under the Kenya Vision 2030 development agenda. It will simplify transport operations across the borders and reduce travel costs, apart from benefiting the economies of Kenya and the neighbouring countries.

The governments of Kenya and Uganda signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in October 2009 to construct the SGR from Mombasa to Kampala. A tripartite agreement was signed by the governments of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda in August 2013 to fast track the development of the railway to their respective capital cities.

The Ugandan section of the SGR line was launched in October 2014. The SGR line from Mombasa to Kigali is expected to be completed by 2018. Kenya Railways Corporation is responsible for the construction of the 1,300km-long track inside Kenya from Mombasa to Malaba via Nairobi.

Details of the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR line

The single-track standard gauge railway between Mombasa and Nairobi will have a route length of 472km and a total length of 609km. It will run through the counties of Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale, Taita-Taveta, Makueni, Kajiado, Machakos and Nairobi.

The Class 1 line will have a superior design catering to robust and low-maintenance requirement. The new line will run parallel to the existing meter gauge railway and the Mombasa-Nairobi Road or A109 Highway for the most part. It will deviate at certain points to attain the desired gradient and curvature.

State-of-the-art passenger stations will be built at Mombasa and Nairobi, as well as five other intermediate stations at Mariakani, Voi, MtitoAndei, Sultan Hamud and AthiRiver. A total of 40 stations are planned to be built along the line, 33 out of which will be ready when the railway becomes operational.

The freight terminals will be located at the Mombasa port and the Inland Container Depots at Embakasi in Nairobi. The railway line is designed to carry 22 million tonnes a year of cargo or a projected 40% of Mombasa Port throughput by 2035.

The challenges posed by the steep incline and ragged terrain of the Miritini to Mazeras section will be overcome by constructing long viaducts, deep cuttings and high embankments.

Fencing will be provided throughout the Tsavo National Park along the route and underpassages will be built for wild animals at short intervals.

Rolling stock of the SGR line

The line will initially carry diesel cars while electrification is possible in future. Multiple unit passenger trains having a capacity of 960 passengers will travel at an average speed of 120km/h on the line.

Freight trains will have a capacity of 216 TEUs and travel at an average speed of 80km/h. A typical freight train on the line will consist of 54 double stack flat wagons and measure 880m-long.

China will supply the initial rolling stock comprising 56 diesel locomotives, 1,620 wagons and 40 coaches.

Contractors involved

China Road and Bridge Corporation, a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Co., was contracted to build the project according to Chinese railway design standards.