Kenya is set to launch its new multi-billion dollar railway, making it the nation’s most expensive infrastructure project in over a century.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $10 billion, with the funds and technology coming from Chinese loans.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said at the launch of the railway line that it signalled a new chapter in Kenya’s history:
“A history that was first started 122 years ago when the British, who had colonised this nation, kicked off the train to nowhere… it was then dubbed the ‘Lunatic Express’.”
“Today… despite again a lot of criticism we now celebrate not the ‘Lunatic Express’ but the Madaraka [named after the day Kenya’s attained internal self-rule) Express that would begin to reshape the story of Kenya for the next 100 years.”
One train can transport up to 200 containers – with a capacity of 1,200 passengers – in just about 8 hours, compared to the 2 days used by highway trucks.
The line is supposed to eventually connect South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi with Mombasa. Also, the tickets are expected to be cheaper than bus fares.
An economy class ticket will cost 900 Kenyan shillings ($9; £7), while a business class ticket will be 3,000 Kenyan shillings. The nearest equivalent bus is ticket is an extra 400 shillings.
Moving at a speed of 120 kilometres per hour, it is expected to commute from Mombasa to Nairobi in just four-and-a-half hours, compared to nine hours by bus or 12 hours on the previous railway.
However, critics are concerned about the hefty loans taken from China to finance the project and argue that the government has to find a better way of paying the loans and meeting operational costs.
They also argue that, in comparison with the railway constructed by neighbouring Ethiopia, Kenya’s costs are almost 40 – 50 percent higher and the technology is out-dated.
The railway is expected to be fully operational by January 2018.