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Kenya’s Ambitious SGR Expansion: Connecting Kisumu, Malaba, and Isiolo by 2027

Kenya has unveiled an ambitious plan to extend its Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) network to Kisumu, Malaba, and Isiolo by June 2027, according to a government document obtained by The Daily Post. The State Department of Transport aims to construct an additional 2,746 kilometers of the SGR, at an estimated cost of KES 2.1 trillion. This would bring the total expenditure on the modern railway system to over KES 2.75 trillion.

The expansion plan is part of the larger Lamu Port South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) project, which seeks to revitalize the northern corridor and stimulate economic activity within Kenya, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. The new SGR lines will not only connect Kisumu and Malaba, as initially planned, but also extend to Isiolo, Moyale, and the island of Lamu.

The proposed route starts from Mariakani in Mombasa County, passing through Lamu and Isiolo. From Isiolo, the SGR will be connected to Moyale, which shares a border with Ethiopia. Additionally, the government plans to extend the SGR from Isiolo to Nairobi, linking the capital city and commercial hub with northern Kenya and eventually Ethiopia. Another line will extend from Naivasha to Malaba via Kisumu.

The majority of funding for the project, approximately KES 1.8 trillion, is expected to come from undisclosed external financiers, with the remaining amount being contributed by the Kenyan government. The current SGR section from Mombasa to Naivasha has been financed by China at a cost of KES 656.1 billion.

The longest stretch of the proposed SGR network will be from Isiolo to Nakodok, covering 753.2 kilometers near the border between Kenya and South Sudan, with an estimated cost of KES 443.2 billion. The section from Lamu to Isiolo, spanning 544.4 kilometers, is projected to cost KES 348.7 billion. The Isiolo-Moyale line, covering 475.9 kilometers, is expected to require KES 317.8 billion. The segment connecting Mariakani to Lamu, stretching 325.3 kilometers, will cost KES 257.3 billion. Furthermore, a 278-kilometer line will link Nairobi to Isiolo, with an estimated cost of KES 239.2 billion. Phase 2B from Naivasha to Kisumu is projected to cost KES 380 billion, while the final leg, Phase 2C from Kisumu to Malaba bordering Uganda, will require an additional KES 122.9 billion.

Despite the government’s intention to commence construction in July of this year, the document highlights a lack of budgetary allocation for the SGR over the next three financial years. In 2014, Kenya entered into a tripartite agreement with Rwanda and Uganda to construct a standard gauge railway from Mombasa to Kigali. However, the project was halted in Naivasha when China declined to finance the final leg after failing to reach an agreement with Uganda.

Under President Ruto’s administration, plans to complete the SGR network have been revitalized through a partnership with the Chinese government. The Ministry of Transport, led by Kipchumba Murkomen, aims to extend the SGR from Mai Mahiu in Naivasha to the Ugandan border, passing through Narok, Bomet, Nyamira, Kisumu, and Malaba, within a five-year plan.

To support the expansion and improve the freight capacity of the SGR, the Ministry of Transport has been allocated KES 100 billion from the Railway Development Levy Fund (RDLF) for the next three years. This funding will be utilized to upgrade the existing SGR line from Mombasa to Naivasha via Nairobi, as well as to procure additional locomotives and cargo wagons. These investments aim to enhance the competitiveness of the modern railway system, which faces tough competition from trucking companies.

The SGR revamp plans primarily involve the construction of new Metre Gauge Railway (MGR) lines or the rehabilitation of existing ones. In the 2023/24 fiscal year, the government intends to allocate KES 37.4 billion to connect these MGR lines to the SGR network and acquire new locomotives and freight wagons. Over the next 12 months, KES 11.9 billion will be allocated for the purchase of new rolling stock.

While Kenya’s SGR extension plans exist largely on paper at this stage, neighboring Tanzania has made significant progress in constructing its own railway network. Tanzania has taken steps to extend its SGR to landlocked countries by signing a KES 271 billion ($2.2 billion) agreement with two Chinese contractors for the final section of the 2,102-kilometer line. Once completed by the end of 2026, this 506-kilometer stretch will be the longest section of the SGR on the African continent.

There is renewed hope that China may resume financing the last leg of Kenya’s SGR following reports that Uganda has secured funds from Standard Chartered Bank to begin construction of its own modern railway. Uganda has awarded the contract for its first SGR to a Turkish company after failing to secure financing from China.

While Kenya faces competition in the race to control East Africa’s logistics corridor, the government remains committed to realizing its SGR expansion plans. The completion of the SGR network would not only enhance transportation and connectivity within Kenya but also bolster trade and economic ties with neighboring countries, driving regional development and integration.

Although the challenges of funding and timelines lie ahead, the government’s commitment, partnerships, and allocation of resources demonstrate its determination to transform Kenya’s railway infrastructure and stimulate economic growth across the country. As the journey towards an extended SGR continues, stakeholders eagerly anticipate progress and the realization of a modern, efficient, and interconnected railway system.

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