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Off track? Experts query new railway dream

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Commuters hang on a Nairobi train. The governments are concluding talks to restructure the concession after it emerged that RVR’s performance on aspects of investment, operations and management was not satisfactory. Photo/FILE

Commuters hang on a Nairobi train. The governments are concluding talks to restructure the concession after it emerged that RVR’s performance on aspects of investment, operations and management was not satisfactory. Photo/FILE 

By DAVID MALINGHA DOYA

Posted  Monday, October 26   2009 at  00:00
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The decision by the governments of Uganda and Kenya to build a standard gauge railway line went against the counsel of certain donors.

The donors wanted the two countries to take the less costly alternative of revamping the existing railway.

The two countries would then gain from improved efficiency, faster speeds and more volumes of cargo for about 20 years.

This alternative was recommended after a feasibility study commissioned by the East African Community (EAC) on the region’s railway master plan.

At the same time, the Kenyan government — through the Kenya Railways Corporation — did a study for a regional railway network that recommended immediate establishment of a new standard gauge line.

Officials of KRC successfully sold their recommendation to the business community and politicians, notably Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, who in support declared: “the existing railway is only fit for the museum.”

The EastAfrican has learnt that the run-up to the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding between Kampala and Nairobi featured heated debate between the governments and donors on which alternative was more feasible.

Uganda was represented by John Nasasira, Minister of Works and Transport, while Kenya was represented by Transport Minister Ali Mwakwere.

Certain donors pushed the governments to follow the recommendation of the study commissioned by the EAC Secretariat.

Without mentioning names, Uganda’ State Minister for Works John Byabagambi said, “That study was influenced by certain donors, but we believe that taking a radical decision to build a new standard gauge railway line once and for all, is a better option because our economies are growing every other year.”

It is understood that the decision was influenced by a preferred financial model in which each government was to finance its part of the network and later allow private players open access at a fee.

However, an ideal financial model should not be in a hurry to recoup the cost of investment through high user fees, a situation that EAC’s recommended plan was keen on avoiding.

Observers say the governments might find it hard to secure funding for the new infrastructure, given that it is expected to be very expensive. Also, the governments have disagreed grossly on technical terms with some prospective funders.

The study that would show the anticipated cost is not yet done, but experts estimate $1million for every kilometre of the over 1,200 kms from the coast to Kampala.

Ironically, officials from Uganda said it will not be a problem, given its feasibility.

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