Commercial operations of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) freight train service began yesterday after more than six months of testing.
A Kenya Railways (KR) official said Monday that after tests running since its launch last year, the train will run smoothly and is ready to open the service to cargo owners.
On May 31 last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged off a cargo train at the Mombasa port second container terminal ahead of launch of the freight services.
The trains have since hauled thousands of metric tonnes of grain including maize imported through a subsidy window between May and September.
Kenya Railways managing director Atanas Maina, who was unavailable for comment at the time of publishing, had earlier indicated it would cost Shs1.8 million (Ksh50,000) to ferry a 20-foot container from Mombasa port to the Nairobi Inland Container Depot (ICD).
The State firm will run freight trains with 54 double-stack flat wagons each, carrying 216 twenty-foot containers each with a total load of 4,000 tonnes on each train.
For six months after the launch of the service tomorrow, KR has been given a target of six million tonnes to the Nairobi ICD which has been expanded from a capacity of 180,000 TEUS (twenty-foot equivalent unit) to 450,000 TEUS at a cost of Sh21 billion.
The 25-tonne axle flat wagons have a capacity to carry a payload of 70 tonnes and will move at a speed of 80 kilometres per hour, taking an average of eight hours between Mombasa and Nairobi.
This cuts the rail transport service to half the time the metre gauge trains took to transport goods between the two cities. However, there are concerns that transporting goods by the SGR trains might not be cheaper, with a section of stakeholders saying cargo owners will spend between Shs525,000 (Ksh15,000) and Shs701,000 (Ksh20,000) on the last mile transport to industries within Nairobi depending on the distance from ICD, meaning the cumulative cost could hit Sh70,000 charged by road transporters.
“We will also consider how other charges that accrue before cargo is delivered to the customer will be handled,” Mr Maina said in an earlier interview.
“There is reduction of time taken to transport goods from Mombasa to Nairobi, decongesting of roads, reduction of carbon emissions and inter connectivity with enhanced development of regional economy,” he added.