Kenya plans to electrify Mombasa–Nairobi rail link

Kenya plans to electrify the diesel-powered standard-gauge railway (SGR) line from the coastal city of Mombasa to the capital, Nairobi, as it seeks to cement its position as a regional transport hub.

The East Africa nation has since secured US$240-million from the China Electric Power Equipment & Technology Company to finance the project, which will mainly involve the construction of 14 substations along the 472 km line.

Being implemented by the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco), the project is expected to be completed in 28 months and will increase investment in the SGR line to date to US$4bn, making the project one of the largest infrastructure projects in Africa.

“Technically, the SGR line is ready for the upgrade because, though initially designed to feature diesel-powered locomotives, it allows for the addition of a single electric line that will be connected to Ketraco’s 400 kV MombasaNairobi transmission line,” says Ketraco MD Fernandes Barasa.

The line, the longest and highest-voltage transmission infrastructure in East Africa, has a transfer capacity of 1 500 MW, which is only 200 MW shy of the current national demand of 1, 700 MW.

The decision by Kenya to electrify the line comes at a time when neighbouring Tanzania is investing US$1.9-billion in an electrified SGR project to compete with Kenya.

Currently, only Ethiopia operates an electrified rail system in the wider Eastern Africa region, after investing US$3.4-billion in a line running from Djibouti to its capital, Addis Ababa.

Kenya is banking on the SGR line to ensure it remains a regional transport hub serving the logistics needs of countries like Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The line, which was commissioned in June last year, started hauling cargo in January, and it is hoped that it will rake in US$142-million in the first two years of operation.

The railway line is expected to handle increased trade between Kenya and other East African countries, considering that, by 2030, the Port of Mombasa will handle more than 30-million tonnes of cargo a year.

The SGR line is designed to carry 22-million tonnes of cargo a year, equivalent to 40 percent of Mombasa Port’s throughput.

“This necessitates the electrification of the rail line, which is a requisite for the faster movement of bigger containers and passengers in the quest to boost East Africa’s competitiveness as an investment hub,” says Barasa.

By John Muchira