4 reasons why Uhuru’s second SGR project has been labelled “train to nowhere”

The cost is nearly 6 times the cost of Thika Road

Why Uhuru’s second SGR project has been labelled “train to nowhere”

President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday launched the second phase of the SGR project which features a train service from Syokimau to Suswa in Narok county.

Unlike the first phase which was launched with a lot of fanfare, the second phase was a relatively lowkey affair. There was no marketing campaign before the launch and a only a handful of political leaders accompanied the President.

Social media and media coverage was filled with pessimistic takes on the project that has been labelled” road to nowhere”.

Here are five simple reasons for the tag:

1. Commuter unfriendly

The major reason why Kenyans have been skeptic of the second SGR project is that it has very little value to commuters.

Despite criticism over the cost incurred in the second SGR phase, many were happy with the fact that transport between Nairobi and Mombasa had been changed for the better. The route was previously a nightmare for motorists concerned about safety and comfort of the lengthy journey.

The second phase, however, ends up in Suswa – a remote town that majority of citizens in Nairobi do not understand.

The second phase also features intermediate stations from Ngong, to Ongata Rongai, and eventually to Syokimau (referred to as Nairobi station).

The train fare is Sh100 but the service has little value to residents in Ngong and in Ongata Rongai who are interested in accessing or leaving the city centre.

The traffic jam from Syokimau to Nairobi CBD is worse, if not equally hectic as the one from Rongai to Nairobi CBD.

Worse, the stations are located in remote places which are far from the main Rongai and Ngong towns.

A commuter wishing to use the service from Rongai, for example, will have to use a taxi to the station, located nearly five kilometres away from the main Rongai town centre – too much stress in the pursuit of convenience.

2. Little prospects of Cargo service

The cargo service is yet to kickstart but is the main target of the second SGR phase.

However, the service has little prospects given that the government is already struggling with getting cargo to transport between the busier Nairobi-Mombasa route.

It is hard to imagine why traders would want their cargo taken to a station in Suswa that is not only remote, but also surrounded by a poor road network (making it hard for trucks to access the station).

3. China refusal to fund entire project

The initial plan for the SGR plan was for a train service that would connect Mombasa to the landlocked countries of Uganda and Rwanda.

However, the Uganda and Rwanda have since shown interest in partnering with Tanzania which would connect them to the port in Dar es Salaam and negate the need for the partnership with Kenya.

The cold feet by the neighboring countries did not fully deter hopes for the project as it would still connect the vibrant Western Kenya economy (including Eldoret, Bungoma, and Kisumu) to Nairobi and Mombasa.

However, China has since declined to fund phase 2B of the SGR that would have picked up the railway from Suswa to Bomet, Kericho, and Kisumu.

4. High Cost

The second phase of the SGR is very expensive and is funded by foreign debt from China.

The project is costing taxpayers Sh150 billion.

For perspective, that is nearly six times the cost of the 50-kilometres Thika Superhighway – which many Kenyans consider the gold standard of a good public investment.

The distance covered from Suswa to Syokimau is about a hundred kilometres, about twice the distance of Thika Road.

Critics ponder that it would have made more sense to improve on the existing road network which is not only under-utilized – but is also in poor shape.

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