Passenger train services on the Nairobi-Kisumu line will restart on Friday after more than a decade, offering competition to public service vehicles that have dominated the western Kenya routes.
Kenya Railway Corporation managing director Philip Mainga said on Wednesday that commuters travelling from Nairobi to Kisumu will pay Sh600 fare on second class coaches and Sh2,000 on first class for the 12-hour journey.
It will seek to eat into the market share of bus firms such as Guardian Bus Service and Easy Coach that charges Sh1,200 and Sh1,600 respectively for a journey that takes an average of seven hours.
The restart of the Nairobi-Kisumu train service will provide for seamless train service from Mombasa through connection to the standard gauge railway (SGR) in the capital.
At 12 hours, the Nairobi-Kisumu train, which will run on the refurbished metre gauge line, will take nearly three times what it would take on SGR from Mombasa to the capital.
Kenya Railways has spent billions of shillings refurbishing its century-old rail network to boost passenger travel and bulk cargo transportation to western Kenya and neighbouring countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo.
“We are launching passenger operations on the Nairobi-Kisumu metre gauge line this coming Friday targeting people planning to visit the western region,” Mr Mainga told the Business Daily on Wednesday.
In a departure from the past, the Nairobi to Kisumu train service will operate during the day, arriving and departing the two cities at 6 a.m. and arriving at 5.45 p.m. with a stopover in Nakuru.
It will charge Sh300 from Nairobi to Nakuru, where the dominant Molo Line bus service charges Sh400.
The new train service will run on December 17, December 24 and January 1 from Nairobi to Kisumu, with an eye on travel during the festive season.
Travel from Kisumu to Nairobi will start on Sunday, and Kenya Railways did not provide additional trip dates from the lakeside city. A Kenya Railway official says a full schedule for the service will be provided early next year.
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. Works on the Malaba track are ongoing in the race to link the old railway track to SGR.
Passengers travelling on night SGR service from Mombasa to Nairobi will connect to the Kisumu train in the capital.
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.
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 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 spare parts. Kenya opened the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR line in 2017 and another new line to Naivasha in 2019.
The cargo and passenger services will enhance the economic viability of the SGR line by easing the 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.