Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) Project is a $3.8 billion national flagship project in Kenya, the construction period is 60 months with the defects liability period 12 months. Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) is the Employer of the project. The main route of the project is 472.25km long starting from the port Mombasa and ending at the capital city Nairobi, and crossing 8 counties, namely, Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Taita Taveta, Makueni, Kajiado, Machakos and Nairobi, where some major economic centres include Voi, Mtito Andei, Sultan Hamud and the tourism hot spot Tsavo National Park.

Mombasa-Nairobi SGR Project fully adopts Chinese Railway Standard and is a Class 1 railway project with single ballasted track, the width of gauge is 1435 mm, and the projected speed is 80 km/h for freight and 120 km/h for passenger trains. The length of track base is 442.629 km, which is 93.7% of the route length. There are 73 different sizes of bridges, which is 29,687.17 linear meters in length, 22 frame bridges that is 630 linear meters long, 27,746 linear meters of culverts, and 33 stations including 2 major stations, 5 intermediate stations and 26 crossing stations.

Mombasa-Nairobi SGR project is the first long-distance overseas trunk line implemented by a Chinese company with the form of EPC integrating operation and maintenance. The SGR Project presents challenges of construction schedule, track laying, localization management, compliance, safety, quality, public security, civilized construction, and environmental protection. Up to today, the SGR project is the largest infrastructure project with Chinese concessional loan, the biggest individual overseas project constructed by Chinese company, and the largest overseas project implemented by CCCC. 

Engineers visit China for SGR Locomotives

With the track, laying business, for the Nairobi Mombasa railways expected to be completed by December 2016. Engineers working on the Standard Gauge Railways (SGR) visited China during the months of February and March 2016 to scout for the best locomotives for the new line.

Alongside the Engineers was the new Transport Principal Secretary Irungu Nyakera who said this is an indication of successful completion of the new railway line, which is set for opening in July 2017. “As you know the whole SGR project to Nairobi is expected to cost at least KES 327 billion and the budget for locomotives and the other machines is within KES 106 billion. The rest of the amount is for the actual construction. You know the total budget for these project included buying of these machines,” he said. He added that the SGR will be handed to the government when 100% complete in June 2017.

Apart from the locomotives, at least 1,620 wagons and 40 coaches are also expected to be purchased for use on the line. Freight trains will have a capacity of 216 TEUs while multiple unit passenger trains will have a capacity of 960 passengers. There are already some locomotives on the SGR helping with the construction. “The locomotives will be 56 and the tentative time for these other ones to arrive will be the end of this year. By mid next year we expect the railway line to be complete. In fact the construction is ahead of time,” Nyakera said.

“Over 75% civil works has been completed on phase one of SGR with over 180KM track-line laid.” Said  Atanas Maina the Managing Director for Kenya Railways Corporation during the Railway Users Consultative Forum in April 2016. “The future expansion of SGR will largely depend on how we can optimize its usage in the region.” He added.  The Kenya Railways Managing director affirmed that the first batch of locomotives is expected to be delivered in November 2016 for trial runs.

One of the Engineers on the trip to China to review the sourcing of the locomotives was Eng. James Karanja the deputy team leader of TSDI-APEC-EDON Consultants. He said they went to China to carry out due diligence; look at the types of Locomotives – technical specifications, and scrutinize different manufactures of locomotives and wagons. They reviewed the manufacturers profiles, compared prices, quality control measures of the manufacturers, certifications, factory tests and compliance to international standards.

“The companies we visited have exported locomotives in use in different countries with diverse operating conditions, some of the countries include; Venezuela, Iran, Canada, Saudi Arabia, India, and Pakistan. Their Quality Control measures are adequate for our specifications.  They use Computer Numerical Control (CNC) systems for machining, and measuring. Their test systems are modern resulting in quality locomotives. Their working history with other major rail companies in the world is well documented with their locomotives considered as reliable and satisfactory.” Said Eng. karanja

The Engineers visited the factories some of which are very advanced and hermitically controlled.  They looked at their maintenance depots, maintenance practise, and equipments. The companies they visited are compliant with International Railway Industry Standard (IRIS) and have joint development projects with other major locomotive companies like General Electric (GE) and Alstom. The companies showed that they have the capacity to meet the desired standards for the SGR. The Engineers also created time to get user feedback from the users of similar locomotives in China. The reviews were found to be positive.

The Engineers identified suitable locomotives for passenger, freight, and shunting operations with power ratings between 2000 KW and 3600 KW. The companies identified have adequate Research and Development programs with qualified staff to run the operations. They offer support and maintenance for the locomotives they supply including, spare parts for 30 years and technical support for 3 years.

There will be training for local Engineers on the operation of the new locomotives; the engineers will also be allowed to monitor the manufacturing process to ensure the best standards are adhered to. The passenger locomotives will reduce the journey from Mombasa to Nairobi to 5 hours, freight movements will also be improved drastically from Mombasa inland.

Once completed, the modern, high capacity SGR will carry on each train a trailing load of 4,000 tonnes. This is expected to raise Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product or total economic production by a material 1.5 per cent.

Capacity Building and Skills transfer

The SGR consultants with KRC organised a one-month skills transfer for young engineers at the KRC HQ and China from 3rd May 2016.

“Let us learn from the Chinese their work ethics,” Said the Kenya Railways MD when he addressed young engineers attending a one-month capacity building and skills transfer training organised by the SGR consultants TSDI-APEC-EDON consortium.

“The history of railways in Kenya was a mistake; the line was done by the British using Indian labour. It was intended for Uganda but ended up becoming Kenya railways when the white people discovered the Kenyan highlands. The railway has come to define Kenya, sprouting towns and cities along its route. Engineers at railways were the best paid for a long time, however in the late 1970s and 1980s things in the railways started going south, Kenya railways Corporation used to be the best employer. We were abandoned by our traditional partners before the Chinese came and rescued the railways through the SGR” Said the MD

Kenya railways Corporation is responsible for all railways in the country not just the Standard gauge Railways project. He added that “The SGR will transform Kenya; the project will take Kenya to the next level. There is up to 3000 KM of railways planned in the Northern Corridor, SGR and the LAPSSET . There are more engineering opportunities in the country with infrastructural development gaining ground.”

KRC is going through the review of the legal framework governing the railway sector in the country the sector is opening up and getting modernised at a fast pace. With the successful delivery of the SGR project, there are already 10 investors with proposals to develop the Nairobi Commuter railway.

Also speaking during the skill transfer Eng. Karanja, the deputy team leader of consultants in the project said  “ In the Phase one of the project young professionals have been exposed to the project, 28 professional from both the Client and the Consultant have been given the chance for a one month skills transfer and training in both Kenya and China.”

The Team leader of the Consultant consortium, Yuan Aiqing, appreciated KRC and its MD and encouraged the skills transfer process saying “ TSDI has over sixty years of experience in railway survey, design and supervision, we are transferring this knowledge and experience to the local professionals in the Consortium from EDON and APEC.”

New contracts

Kenya has signed another agreement with the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) for the construction of the Naivasha to Malaba Standard Gauge Railway line under the Kenya SGR Developments Project. The signing ceremony was held on Thursday 24th March, 2016 at the Villa Rosa Kempinsky hotel. The contract, which is a follow up to the Cabinet’s recent approval for the extension is valued at Sh549 billion.

The contract will enable the two companies collaborate in the conducting of a feasibility study for the Nairobi to Malaba section of the project; facilitate transfer of technology; and creating of skills and capacity for construction, maintenance and operation of the railway upon completion.


The commercial contract entails four elements namely Naivasha – Kisumu section, Kisumu Malaba section; Kisumu Port Development; and modernization and expansion of the Inland Container Depot (ICD) at Embakasi in Nairobi.

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