Why the Chinese won’t finance Naivasha-Kisumu Line

Kenyan SGR: Mombasa-Nairobi
Section operational
The Naivasha-Kisumu SGR line technically and commercially unviable, we can report. That is why the Chinese cannot finance it. Kenya is, therefore, well advised to focus on the Naivasha-Malaba line which will  link to Uganda and on to Rwanda, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and eventually Juba, in South Sudan.
That was the original goal and design of the standard Gauge Railway line, to provide seamless railway connection between Mombasa Port and its hinterland. That would raise its economic and commercial viability. Also, Read http://eaers.blogspot.com/2013/07/coming-soon-mombasa-kigali-express.html

The purpose of a Standard Gauge Railway line is to provide high- speed, cheap and reliable network for faster transportation of goods and people. The purpose is well served by a line linking Kampala through Malaba than through Lake Victoria.
Tunneling Nairobi-Naivasha Section

While a high-speed Railway linking Mombasa and Kisumu is desirable, technical hitches make it a bottleneck to high-speed railway transport in the region. It is also expensive for it requires investment in port improvement in East Africa and the purchase of high capacity ferries.

Let’s look at it this way: One double-stack train can carry 216- 20-foot containers. To carry the same quantity across Lake Victoria to any destination in East Africa will require 5 ferries each carrying 44 containers. This raises the transport time for the containers to their destination by 15 hours, in the process increasing the transport cost for importers and exporters.

In addition, some freight such as oil and chemicals cannot be ferried over a freshwater lake such as Lake Victoria.  Furthermore, the loading and off-loading also constitute some risks for the freight owner including damage, loss, and delays.

These are the same hitches that bedevil the Dar-Es-salaam-Mwanza line as a link to Uganda

High speed means High speed. That is faster transportation of goods and people. For instance, a train journey from Mombasa to Kampala through Malaba will take 24 hours. The same journey will require an additional 15 hours by Ferry. It takes five to seven days by road.

 The Chinese know this and will not spend good money chasing bad money. That is why they were ready to fund a seamless railway link between Mombasa and Kampala and onwards but grew cold feet on the Kisumu line. Kisumu was designed to be a branch line whose commercial viability is assured by the vibrancy of the mainline.

While marine transport across the lake is desirable, it is only useful for small - scale traders. Marine transport across Lake Victoria collapsed more than ten years ago and it would require massive investment in cash and time to revamp it. It takes three years to build a Ferry, meaning it would require 15 man-years to build five Ferries in addition to revamping the Ports along the Lake.

Seamless railway transport in east Africa would raise demand for the Railway service and lower freight costs, making the line profitable. This is one reason Kenya should re-think the Naivasha- Kisumu line.

Kenya changed its design following Uganda’s shift of the Oil Pipeline from Kenya to Tanzania in 2016.  However, the Tanzanian ambition of diverting cargo from Mombasa to its Port in Dar-Es-Salaam is,   simply put, a pipe dream. Ferrying freight on Lake Victoria presents a problem of herculean proportions.

A report by the Ugandan Ministry of Works and Transport dismissed the Dar-Es-Salaam- Mwanza-Port Bell link as a minor alternative to the Northern Corridor SGR. The report demonstrates that travel time between Dar-Es-Salaam and Kampala through Mwanza will take a total of 89 hours- 72 hours to Mwanza and an additional 15 hours across Lake Victoria. And, the report adds, this is being optimistic.
Now that Uganda has seen the light, Kenya should refocus on the Malaba line to unlock the funds even for Uganda and raise its economic and commercial viability.

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