Kenya drops bid for electric SGR trains

Kenya has dropped plans for electrification of the standard gauge railway (SGR) line between Mombasa and Nairobi, citing its high costs and irregular power supply.

Kenya Railways managing director Atanas Maina said on Thursday preliminary research had shown inadequate demand for electric trains in Kenya.

The government had earlier planned a Ksh49 billion ($480m) electric upgrade before 2021 and ahead of Uganda linking its SGR line to the Kenyan one.

“Electrifying this line also depends on our ability as a country to finance that kind of infrastructure,” said Mr Maina.

“It was something that we would love to have, however, the country does not have a dependable source of electricity.”

While the frequency and severity of outages in Kenya have fallen over the years, many firms still run stand-by generators to cope with any supply interruptions.

China Road and Bridge Corporation, which was appointed to build the Mombasa-Nairobi line, will be offered 15 per cent over the current construction costs of Ksh327 billion ($3.2bn) or Ksh49.05 billion ($480m) more to upgrade the line.

An electric track was needed for fast movement of bigger containers and passengers in the quest to boost East Africa’s competitiveness as an investment destination.

The faster SGR railway, which was built in two-and-half years, started passenger services mid last year and commercial cargo services this month.

The design of the SGR rail line — which is currently run by diesel-powered locomotives — allows for the addition of a single electric line.

On Thursday, Mr Maina said in a TV interview that demand for electric train does not exist in Kenya at the moment.

He argued that electrifying the line would enhance the speed of the railway, but could not take Kenya to speeds of up to 250km per hour seen in developed nations such as China, Germany and UK.

“Those trains are designed for passenger movement in countries where the focus is to move millions of people. I do not think the demand exists in this country now,” he said.

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