Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) being constructed by the Chinese will be upgraded to an electric railroad once the power supply becomes dependable.
Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said on Wednesday that the electric addition will cost 15 per cent of the money already spent on the construction of the 472km line between Mombasa and Nairobi.
“We didn’t want to construct an electric line yet we don’t have a dependable source of electricity. So we had to construct a diesel locomotive line with a provision of upgrading it,” he told journalists on a tour of the SGR construction yard near the Port of Mombasa.
Mr Macharia argued the electric option could not be built at first because there had to be assurances on regular power supply.
“We hope to upgrade in about three to four years,” he said.
The current length of SGR cost approximately Sh328 billion with financing from the China Exim Bank.
But critics have often juxtaposed this with the Ethiopian electric line which cost about Sh100 billion less yet Kenya’s rail wagons will be powered by diesel.
Mr Macharia said the design of the railway allows for an addition of a single electric line and will not require an overhaul.
Contractor, China Road and Bridge is expected to complete the first phase of it with subsequent launch of the transport services by June 1.
But the decision to construct this line has come with criticism.
Some economists argue there will be little trickle-down effect and few benefits to ordinary Kenyans.
On Thursday, Mr Macharia said the benefits are already reaching Kenyans.
“We will not wait to complete it. If you fly along the SGR, you will see the benefits. Some factories are coming up…some shopping centres are expanding,” he argued.
But with Sh328 billion going on the line alone, Kenya has also had to spend another Sh5 billion to expand roads linking the Port to the railway and the airport in Mombasa.
Two billion from these went to compensate shop owners in Mombasa who had to make way.
The government expects the SGR to transport 22 million tones of cargo a year, 20 million more than the current ordinary rail.
According to the CS, this will put 40 per cent of cargo transported via road on rail, saving maintenance costs for roads.
However, he argued that truck drivers should not be scared of job losses because new road projects to places off the rail will be put up.