Travellers from Mombasa to Kisumu through Nairobi will from early December get seamless train services, linking the standard gauge rail (SGR) line and the refurbished meter gauge track.
Kenya Railways Corporation managing director Philip Mainga set the date for the seamless services after the construction of a rail line linking the SGR to the older railway track at Longonot.
The corporation has spent billions of shillings refurbishing its century-old rail network to boost bulk cargo transportation and passenger travel.
“We are finally set to commission passenger operations on the Nakuru-Kisumu meter gauge line early December,” Mr Mainga told the Business Daily in an interview on Saturday.
“The train is going to be a game-changer in this region. It will unlock Western Kenya for business because we will also launch cargo business at the same time.”
The old line from Naivasha to Malaba has been operational but is in a bad condition, limiting the cargo volumes and train speeds.
The track from Nakuru, which goes through Njoro, Londiani, Kisumu and terminates at Butere, has not been in use.
The refurbishment of the Kisumu line is complete and works on the Malaba track are ongoing in the race to link the old railway track to SGR.
The train from Kisumu on the meter gauge rail will terminate its journey at the Naivasha station where passengers will be transferred to SGR via a new 23.5-kilometre link line to Longonot.
The seamless service comes more than a decade after the company stopped operating passenger trains to western Kenya due to the dilapidated state of the rail.
It is not clear how much passengers would pay for travel between Mombasa and western Kenya.
Kenya dropped its plan to extend the SGR to Kisumu and later on to the Ugandan border after failing to secure a multibillion-shilling loan from China, which funded the first and second phases of the project.
The old line, which had a thriving passenger service in the 1990s, will form the major supply route to deliver cargo to the neighbouring countries through the Kisumu port.
Plans to upgrade it came after Uganda also announced that it would start refurbishing the old rail network to boost bulk cargo transportation, after failing to secure $2.2 billion in Chinese funding for a new SGR line.
A cargo rail business is critical to making the Kisumu port a viable public investment.
The port is ready for use, but its official launch has been delayed. It is expected to raise the fortunes of the western Kenya city as a regional economic hub.
The port will make Lake Victoria a crucial transport corridor in the shipment of general cargo into and out of the East African region.
Some of the goods that Kenya plans to export via the port are fertiliser, cement, rice, edible oil and general dry cargo such as spare parts. Kenya opened the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR line in 2017 and another new line to Naivasha in 2019.
It plans to link the old railway track to the SGR line in Naivasha for seamless cargo movements to the neighbouring countries.
The cargo and passenger services will enhance the economic viability of the SGR line through easing movement of freight and passengers from the Port of Mombasa to Uganda and the neighbouring countries.
There have been concerns that the Mombasa to Naivasha SGR line that cost an estimated Sh477 billion, would not be economically viable if it were not connected to Kampala, which is a major user of the Mombasa port for its imports.