1000 days, more than 4.17 million passengers yet profits remain elusive

KENYA’S STANDARD GAUGE RAILWAY – WHERE SUCCESS AND FAILURE ARE CLOSE COMPANIONS

(Posted 27th February 2020)

Earlier this week did Kenya’s ‘Madaraka Express‘ clock their 1.000th day of operation. During this time did more than 4.17 million passengers use the trains, which accumulated some 13.000 overwhelmingly on time departures, both for passengers and cargo trains. During the first year of operation did the railway carry 1.3 million passengers, as a comparative figure.

While no doubt the SGR operation has changed and benefitted the lives of many Kenyans, who can now travel to and from Mombasa at a very reasonable cost – and most important with assured safety – does the overall financial situation not look as rosy as the passenger statistics might suggest.

Operational challenges with sales – using state of the art mechanisms like credit and debit cards – remain unsolved and bookings regularly give travelers, especially those coming from abroad, unnecessary headaches.

The railway is also struggling to generate the cash needed to make the massive repayments now due to China. With the balance of the route from Naivasha to the border with Uganda now stuck in financial doldrums – the cargo uplift equation has all but collapsed due to the fact that Rwanda has signed up with Tanzania for their central SGR railway line – is the prospect of finding enough cargo from the port of Mombasa to the African hinterland now in doubt, and subsequently have the Chinese financiers put a halt on the extension. This has led both Uganda and Kenya to spend a combined hundreds of millions of US Dollars to refurbish the century old narrow gauge line, to at least have that option become operational again for cargos between the two countries to be uplifted by rail rather than is the case right now by road alone.

The extension from Nairobi to Naivasha – reportedly are only two passenger trains a week running in both directions – too has not taken off like the route to Mombasa and the railway operator has been shy to provide passenger numbers for that service.

The route to Mombasa however is a winner, at least in terms of numbers, and hotel operators in the national parks of Amboseli, Tsavo West, Tsavo East and the Taita Hills area, but also coastal resort operators benefit from the packages which have been created in conjunction with tour operators.
Travelers can get off at Emali, Mtito Andei and Voi to visit the parks and stay in lodges and of course once reaching the terminus in Mombasa can the resorts from Malindi over Watamu, Kilifi, north and south of Mombasa up to Diani and beyond be reached by last mile road transfers.

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