Two female engine drivers gesture before the operations of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) in Mombasa, Kenya, on May 31, 2017. Kenya began operations on the Chinese-built Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) Wednesday. (Xinhua/Sun Ruibo)
MOMBASA, Kenya, May 31 (Xinhua) -- Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday launched the passenger train service of the 480-km Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), paving way for the nation's endeavor for industrialization and prosperity.
Terming it as "a new chapter" in the history of Kenya, the president said the modern railway will replace the meter gauge railway that was constructed more than 100 years ago during the British colonial rule.
"Today we celebrate the laying of one of the key cornerstones to Kenya's journey of transformation to an industrial, prosperous and middle-income country," he said ahead of embarking on the inaugural trip from Mombasa to Nairobi.
The launch came one day after the Kenyan leader launched the first SGR cargo service between the two cities.
Kenyatta said that the SGR was made possible due to the close Sino-Kenya friendship.
"I want to thank our partner and true friend China for the support that has enabled the construction and completion of the project after only two and a half years," he said.
The 3.8-billion-U.S.-dollar infrastructure project was constructed by the China Road and Bridge Corporation, with 90 percent of the funding coming from China.
Chinese State Councilor Wang Yong, who attended the launching ceremony as the special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping, said the Mombasa-Nairobi railway has been an early fruit that came out of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in late 2015.
"The Mombasa-Nairobi SGR is an exemplary project of China-Africa cooperation on the construction of roads, railways, aviation networks and industrialization," Wang said, adding that the SGR will bear great significance in boosting the development in Kenya and the region, speeding up Africa's industrialization process, and expanding the reach of the Belt and Road to more African countries.
"China stands ready to work with Kenya to make the Mombasa-Nairobi railway become a railway of prosperity and development for Kenya, and a new example of the transformation and upgrade of China-Africa cooperation," said Wang.
Welcoming passengers who are ready to board the inaugural train, Angela Obunga, a Mombasa West Railway Station staff, said she is happy with her new job for passenger service at the station as the new railway is launched.
"It is good for Kenya because it will now have an efficient train service plying the Nairobi Mombasa route. Transportation between the two cities will be more reliable and convenient," she said.
The SGR, providing both cargo and passenger transport services, will cut dramatically the time and costs for the movement of goods and people. It is expected to reduce the time for a passenger traveling from Mombasa to Nairobi to merely four and a half hours compared to nearly 10 hours on bus. Time to transport cargo from Mombasa to Nairobi, meanwhile, will also decrease from two days to eight hours.
Edward Ngugi, another SGR passenger service clerk, said the commissioning of the SGR will mean less congestion on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. Public expenditure on the maintenance of the road will also reduce due to less wear and tear as people will begin favoring railways to transport goods.