Monday, September 21, 2009

Replacement envisaged for the Lunatic Line

Ambitious upgrade for Kenya’s freight rail announced
Shipping News Feature

KENYA - The Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) has announced it plans to build a brand-new high speed rail network so as to make the country much more competitive in exports. In an announcement last week the corporation began to advertise for a Transaction Advisor who would be responsible for the initial development work on the scheme.

Three new lines are proposed, with much improved links between Nairobi and the port of Mombasa and the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa being of key interest. The proposal is that the lines shall operate freight trains capable of carrying a minimum of 4,000 tonnes at 75mph and double-decked passenger trains at 100mph.

This is in sharp contrast with the existing infrastructure, the so-called Mombasa-Nairobi ‘lunatic line’, which was built over one hundred years ago and was made infamous during construction because of the Tsavo maneaters episode, where two lions killed an estimated 135 rail workers. Currently this line can only haul 800 tonne loads at a best speed of 28mph.

With the port of Mombasa projected to increase the cargo it handles from 17 million tonnes to 30 million by 2030, the new development is seen as crucial by the KRC to maintaining Kenya’s economy. In addition, the corporation believes that with transportation costs in Kenya and the East Africa region constituting 40-45% of the total cost of production of goods, the new line will be vital in improving East African exports and competitiveness for the coming century.

The scheme is another indication that African nations are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of upgrading dilapidated freight and transport networks, with this announcement following on from Rwandan-Burundi-Tanzania plans to develop their own new rail links and Nigeria starting to dredge the Niger delta to enable better access to freight vessels.

The Kenyan scheme plans to have construction start in late 2011, with the Mombassa-Nairobi section to be completed by 2013. As long as the lions don’t have a say.