RVR news – both ups and downs


(Posted 31st January 2014)

Two sets of news emerged about Rift Valley Railways, operators of the present rail system in Kenya and Uganda under a long term concession from the two governments.

The arrival of a new automated track maintenance machines, a so called Ballast Tamper and a Ballast Profiler at the port of Mombasa, procured at a cost of 3 billion Uganda Shillings or over 1.25 million US Dollars equivalent was widely applauded the day before yesterday, when the equipment was offloaded from ship to shore and set on the rails in the port. Able to restore the track at a speed of 1 kilometre per hour, compared to the current 40 metres by regular work gangs using manual tools, the new machinery is expected to progressively improve the condition of the entire track system in Kenya and in Uganda. RVR staff are presently being trained on the use of the two machines and deployment is expected in early March at the latest.

Last year were 70 kilometres on the Mombasa to Nairobi line rebuilt, using manual means, on a stretch which accounted for nearly two thirds of the delays encountered on the route, cutting journey time between the two cities by 6 hours already. Further improvements, especially on the sector from Nairobi to the Ugandan border and to Kisumu will bring similar benefits to importers and exporters using the railsystem for transporting their goods.

Rift Valley Railways, by their own statements, have now by and large met the conditions of their concession and ticked off one area of compliance after the other, fending off questions on their performance which admittedly in the early years was way below standards when Sheltam of South Africa was still involved before being pushed out in a shareholder restructuring.

In fact the second set of news refers precisely to that again as the company’s second largest shareholder, TransCentury, which holds around 34 percent of the shares, announced their intent yesterday to ‘change their shareholding position’ which was left without further comments to linger, leaving open the key question if this means trying to increase or decrease their holding. This sort of guessing game plays directly into the hands of those wanting to cancel the company’s concession and who are just waiting for the right reason to push their agenda through, especially as the new standard gauge railway is coming up and the narrow gauge existing railway seen as a potential ‘spoiler’, able to operate at substantially lower cost and largely improved speeds at the time when the new railway will finally be ready.

It was shareholder quarrels which were largely blamed in the early years of the concession to have prevented the company to meet investment targets, cargo volume targets, speed and reliability targets and line refurbishment targets, prompting calls at the time to cancel the concession, before then the investment company Citadel of Egypt came on board, eventually installing new management from Brazil and starting the turnaround after a largely dismal start under Kenyan management.

Besides regular cargo services, late last year extended to the town of Gulu in Northern Uganda after refurbishing the rail line after nearly 2 decades of rot, does RVR also operate 3 weekly passenger train services between Nairobi and Mombasa and vice versa. Watch this space for future updates about rail transport between Kenya and Uganda.

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