China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), the Chinese firm that built Kenya’s multi-billion-shilling Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is set to clinch the Sh2.5 billion contract to refurbish the old Nairobi commuter railway network.
Transport Secretary James Macharia who has already tabled the single-sourced deal before the Cabinet wants the Cabinet to approve the hiring of CRBC without subjecting it to competitive bidding, citing a lack of local firms "with required capacity to undertake the works".
Mr Macharia wrote to the Cabinet in December last year seeking leeway to have the Chinese firm undertake the works, which include the upgrading of railway stations and ballasting of the rail network in the first phase of the track
“The purpose of this Cabinet memorandum is to seek concurrence of the Cabinet to engage China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) to undertake infrastructure works since we do not have local firms with the required capacity to undertake the works whereas CRBC have the adequate technical capacity, pre-requisite railway experience and ability to mobilise immediately,” wrote Mr Macharia.
However, a section of the Kenya Railways management is said to have preferred open tendering for the upgrade contract, arguing that the rehabilitation of railway stations could have been done by Kenyan firms.
Some Kenya Railways officials had also pushed for an open tender for a local firm to do at least part of the works like ballasting, which is budgeted at Sh200 million.
The refurbishment is intended to lay the ground for the anticipated shipping in of Sh1.5 billion second-hand diesel locomotives that the government is importing from Spain to be deployed on the Nairobi commuter rail network.
The current commuter rail network is so dilapidated that the average speed on some sections is as low as 15 kilometres per hour due to broken rails, unstable tracks and insufficient ballast.
Track rehabilitation works are expected to increase the speed at some sections to the original design of up to 60kph.