Uganda has signed a $376m deal with a Chinese firm to revamp its century-old metre gauge railway line between Malaba and Kampala to create seamless travel from the Mombasa port.
The 260 kilometre Kampala line will be linked to the standard gauge railway (SGR) track through the Naivasha to Malaba old railway, which Kenya is upgrading.
The investment is part of the ambitious Uganda Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project, which aims to redevelop the country’s dilapidated 1,266km, 1000mm-gauge network to standard gauge.
An additional investment of sh48billion has been approved to purchase eight locomotives for the line, and a further sh9.5billion for routine repairs across the network.
Once completed, goods from the Mombasa port will be transported seamlessly via SGR and metre gauge rail to Uganda.
Kenya wants a reliable mode of transport for onward transit of cargo into the hinterland to make its logistics infrastructure operational, particularly the Naivasha inland container depot.
Kenya is also eyeing the $92.3 million Congolese market for its manufactured goods and is apparently keen to see a link with Uganda actualised in the shortest time possible.
The renewed focus on the metre gauge line in the country now dims hopes of fast-tracking the Chinese-funded SGR, which was expected to reach Kisumu by 2022 and link it to a sea port for shipping to Uganda.
Signed in 2013 as part of the Northern Corridor Integration projects, the SGR has only been operational in Kenya from Mombasa to Nairobi since 2018, but is yet to take shape in Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.
There have been concerns that the Mombasa-Naivasha SGR line, which cost an estimated Sh477 billion, including financing costs, would not be economically viable if it is not connected to Kampala, which is a major user of the Mombasa port.
China Roads and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) will take under a year to upgrade the railway line between Malaba and Kampala.
The signing of the Sh5 billion deal was witnessed by Kenyan officials who had accompanied President Uhuru Kenyatta to Kampala when President Yoweri Museveni was sworn in for his seventh term.
Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said they were part of the talks between CRBC and the Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) for the revamp of the Malaba-Kampala line.
“We came here to assist them (Uganda) conclude this deal. It has been done. The idea is to make sure that we have a seamless operation of the metre gauge railway line from Naivasha all the way to Kampala,” Mr Macharia said on phone.
“We had contracted CRBC to rehabilitate the Longonot to Malaba line and the progress is good so far. So, we felt for it to make sense, Uganda had to also start doing the same for their line to make this project complete,” he added.
Kenya maintains that rehabilitating the Naivasha-Malaba line and building another short track connecting the SGR at Naivasha is a quicker option than building another SGR.
It abandoned plans to extend the SGR line to Kisumu and later on to the Ugandan border after failing to secure a multi-billion-shilling loan from China, which had funded the first and second phases of the line.
The SGR line linking the Port of Mombasa with Nairobi was opened in May 2017.
It was later linked with the Sh150 billion line to Naivasha, which started operations last August.
Currently, goods destined to Uganda from Mombasa port are transported by road from Naivasha where the multi-billion shilling SGR line from Mombasa ends.