Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Kenya@50 Series: The Changing Face of Kenya Railways

The recent task force report on state corporations that recommended winding up and merging of several state corporations came as a sigh of relief to the public owing to the ballooning wage bill. Most of the parastatals had duplicate mandates or related and have been for a long time seen to be spending tax payer’s money without anything to show for it.  The employees just like other government agencies are relaxed in performing their duties since they know they will get paid and funding will always be there anyway for the next financial year. The move by the government to make state corporations more accountable will greatly enhance productivity and service delivery.

The Kenya Railways Corporation was established by an Act of Parliament (Cap 397) of the Laws of Kenya, and commenced operations on January 20, 1978. The Kenya Railway (KR) was spared during the radical surgery carried out in the parastatals and they have been very busy lately working on various projects aimed at providing efficient transport. KR was at one time ranked among the worst performing state corporations but of late, their effort has been encouraging. Some of the projects its currently undertaking include: National Railway Network and Connections Greater Nairobi Commuter Rail Services, Lamu-Nadapal Standard Gauge Railway, The Great Equatorial Land Bridge, Mombasa Island Rail Commuter Services, Moi International Airport Rail Commuter Services, Kisumu Region Rail Commuter Services and the Proposed Railway City Development. Recently, the president H.E Uhuru Kenyatta led the nation in a ground breaking ceremony of the railway that will link Mombasa and Kigali will significantly improve transportation within the East Africa community.

While the president was launching the Mombasa-Kigali railway, KR was busy carrying out final touches on the Imara Daima and Makadara railways stations. The two stations are virtually ready for operation and it is anticipated that they roll out the commuter services in due to time. The stations are expected to ease transport nightmare in the city especially in the densely populated ‘Prime East’ (Eastlands). When KR announced the plans anyone who has ever been caught in the heavy traffic jam a long Jogoo Road and Mombasa Road appreciated the plans. The two stations come on the background of operationalization of the Syokimau railway station serving those in Mlolongo, Athi River and Kitengela environs.

However, despite the initiatives put forth by the KR, the Nairobi’s train commuter services are still being underutilized. The trains plying Syokimau route have been experiencing low usage as people use the public service vehicles. This has been attributed to relatively high fare charges which was ranging between Ksh.80 and Ksh.200 but has since been reduced to Ksh.30 though the cabins are still empty. The Syokimau station had earlier targeted the middle class but going by the empty cabins, it seems the plan flopped. Perhaps what they had failed to realize was the fact that most of the middle class prefer the prestige of driving their cars as opposed to using the train. 

The low income earners, alternative target market, could not use them owing to the high fares hence necessitating the reduction. Another probable reason for low usage is the rigid train schedules. The trains have specific times operating which has disadvantaged it when it comes to competing with the PSVs which are very flexible and one can travel anytime. KR should therefore introduce more schedules so that they don’t restrict travelling to early morning and in the evening. As KR continues to expand its commuter services and improve the infrastructure, it will help in easing up transport congestion in the city having in mind that the city’s population is increasing daily and also provide efficient transport solutions countrywide. Otherwise, they are doing quite a good job.