Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mombasa Port And Kenyan Rail Freight Facilities Still Under Review

Privatisation Seen as the Solution to Cargo Handling and Kenya Rail Development
Shipping News Feature

KENYA – The ongoing congestion problems at Mombasa Port were the subject of a parliamentary survey when Government representatives toured the port this week. The chairman of the Committee however described the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) scheme as “piecemeal”. Meantime the Kenya Railways Corporation have posted a tender document for applications for a consultancy on upgrading the freight rail system in the country, a study which they wish to have in place by March 2011.

Mombasa’s problems are multiple, last week saw the dockworkers union reject any privatisation plans wholesale. At a fiery meeting to discuss the private management of four of the ports berths there were walk outs and shouts of protest at the meeting with the Ports Authority and the Provincial Commissioner. A strike was threatened by union officials if the plans continued and they stated they believed it was the management’s intention to place control of the entire facility away from public control causing up to 4000 of Mombasa’s 7000 dockers to be laid off.

Last Thursday the Parliament declared that the decision over privatisation would be theirs alone. Japanese money is already on hand to construct Mombasa’s second container terminal and management plans are to modernise handling facilities, for all cargo types, throughout the port. At the moment the lamentable state of the terminals with outdated equipment and methods are blamed for increased costs to shippers. Ships cranes currently move containers on the general cargo wharves, a painfully inefficient way of working. The quays require structural reinforcement and modern box gantries.

The state of the port reverberates throughout the country, handling of bulk fertilizer for example is said to be costing 25% more than it should in delays and spillage, an overhead passed directly on to consumers. Estimates of Mombasa’s potential throughput by 2030 are as high as 30 million tonnes per annum compared to today’s figure of 17 million tonnes.

The need to upgrade the port can be compared to the investment which will be required to bring the rail freight system into the 21st century. The century old metre gauge tracks need standardisation across Kenya to cope with their current 800 tonne capacity which can only ferry railfreight cars at a maximum 30mph up to a more realistic 4000 plus tones which should move at an average speed of around 75mph.

Transport costs in the region are phenomenally high as a proportion of overall costs running up to 40%+ mainly due to the preponderance of truck services which handle an estimated 90%+ of all freight movements. The new consultants will be required to design a new rail network incorporating intermodal links, construct a finance model, communicate with likely investors and provide tender documents and indicate suitable companies for design and construction whilst recommending the regulatory process required to support, and manage the ongoing system.

Discussions are also ongoing with the government of Uganda to facilitate plans for the proposed Malabe – Kampala section of the new rail infrastructure.