Kenya has launched direct SGR cargo freight from Mombasa to the Naivasha inland container depot, boosting movement of goods in the region at a time when differences over response to the coronavirus pandemic has hit road transportation.
All cargo destined for neighbouring countries will now be loaded onto the standard gauge railway (SGR) and moved directly from Mombasa to the Naivasha inland container depot (ICD), where transporters will pick it for onward delivery.
Kenya’s Transport Cabinet Secretary, James Macharia, accompanied by KPA officials on Thursday, inspected facilities at the now completed Naivasha ICD, which had been beset by construction delays.
He received the inaugural direct SGR freight service from Mombasa.
Kenya Railways managing director Phillip Mainga said the service has started with two daily trains hauling up to 108 twenty-foot equivalent units (teus) and a minimum of 70 teus.
The Naivasha ICD has a capacity to hold two million tonnes annually and is intended to reduce congestion at the Nairobi ICD and Mombasa port, cut the number of trucks on the roads and facilitate seamless trans-shipment of goods to neighbouring countries.
Kenyan cross-border truck drivers were from last week required to obtain a certificate from the Ministry of Health confirming they are Covid-19 free after Uganda and Rwanda accused them of being the weak link in their fight against the deadly virus.
“We want to contain the spike in the number of truck drivers testing positive for Covid-19 because there will be fewer trucks originating from Mombasa,” he noted.
Commencement of operations at the Naivasha ICD comes at a time when Kenya is investing $30 million to rehabilitate the colonial-era meter gauge railway line from Nairobi to Nanyuki to spur economic activities in the agricultural-rich central region of the country.
The 240-km line, which has been idle for more than four decades, will be linked to the SGR in a move intended to enhance business for the SGR freight service from Nairobi to Mombasa.
Mr Mainga said all transit cargo destined to Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo will be transported directly to the Naivasha ICD.
The neighbouring countries have been allocated space for logistical operations within the wider Naivasha special economic zone (SEZ).
Mombasa, Kenya’s main port, has emerged as a Covid-19 hotspot accounting for about 25 per cent of the country’s cases, an outcome that has forced the government to reduce the number of workers at the port from 6,200 to 4,000; with a target to cut the number further to 3,500.
Uganda and Rwanda have imposed tough restrictive measures on Kenyan truck drivers with strict regulations that Kenya and Tanzanian drivers have rejected.
“Kenyan truck drivers are becoming a target due to the narrative that they are the ones taking Covid-19 to Uganda,” said Wanja Kiragu, operations director at East African Online Transport Agency.
KPA and Kenya Railway have completed construction of the Naivasha ICD and its ancillary facilities, enabling freight service on the SGR Phase 2A that cost Nairobi $1.5 billion to construct.
The line is an extension of the $3.27 billion Chinese-funded SGR from Mombasa to Nairobi.
The government has invested $65.7 million in the ICD that including a seven-kilometre link to the Mai Mahiu-Narok road, Internet and electricity connections, a business block, perimeter wall and floodlights.
Uganda cargo commands more than 80 per cent of the regional transit traffic through Mombasa port.