New Nairobi-Mombasa railway opens

Major Kenyan rail route launches 18 months ahead of schedule.

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta launched the new 472-km railway line between the capital Nairobi and the country's main sea port of Mombasa on 31 May, 18 months ahead of schedule.

The $3.2bn Chinese-funded line has been described as a “new chapter in Kenya’s history” by Kenyatta, who is seeking a second term in office in the upcoming general elections on 8 August.

The new route is the first phase of a line which is intended, eventually, to connect Kenya's land-locked neighbours South Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi to the Indian Ocean.

The railway line's official title is the Madaraka Express, named after the day Kenya attained internal self-rule in 1964 and which is celebrated annually on 1 June. The project is the most ambitious infrastructure scheme undertaken in Kenya since the original Nairobi-Mombasa train line was constructed over a century ago.

Kenyatta said the line would make Mombasa a more efficient port, cementing Kenya’s position as the gateway to east Africa. The president has also secured additional Chinese funds of $3.6 billion to extend the route 250km west from the central town of Naivasha to Kisumu on the north-eastern shore of Lake Victoria, about 150km from the official Uganda-Kenya land crossing.

There are seven stations in between Mombasa and the capital: Mariakani, Miasenyi, Voi, Mtito Andei, Kibwezi, Emali and Athi River.

Trains will transport up to 1,200 passengers between Nairobi and Mombasa daily, with fares ranging between Sh700 and Sh3,000. The train service will be managed by the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) for the first five years before being taken over by the Kenyan government.

Previously, passenger trains between the two cities took at least eight hours, however the new railway has reduced travel time to about four and half hours. The time taken to transport freight has also been reduced from between 16 and 24 hours to a maximum of eight hours.