Feature: Kenya's modern railway boosts growth of small towns

Source: Xinhua| 2019-05-01 21:09:31|Editor: Xiaoxia
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by James Asande and Yang Zhen

NAIROBI, May 1 (Xinhua) -- The China funded Standard Gauge Railway(SGR) linking the Kenyan capital Nairobi to the port city of Mombasa has revitalized growth of small town along its 480 kilometers corridor since its launch on May 31, 2017.

Kenya's modern railway line that has been described as a game changer in transport, regional integration and cross border trade, will later extend to Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.

Locally, it has shortened the passenger travel time from Mombasa to Nairobi from 10 to four hours, whereas the freight trains complete the journey in less than eight hours.

China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) began construction of phase one SGR project in October 2013 and managed to create 30,000 local jobs.

At the bustling Voi town located about 329 kilometers south east of Nairobi, the SGR project has become anonymous with an economic windfall that has been felt by residents.

Janet Oben, Taita Taveta County chief executive officer for Tourism, said the SGR has raised the visibility of Voi town, which has lately been receiving a high number of tourists.

"Convenience and comfort has seen to it that many tourists travelling to Mombasa stop at Voi and visit many of our scenic attractions and cultural centres before they continue with their journey," said Oben adding that SGR has improved relationship among investors and working class communities.

"Someone can depart Nairobi in the morning and have a meeting in Voi at lunch hour and leave in the afternoon. Before, people would book flights to Mombasa and travel by road to Voi. The SGR has saved travel time to most tourists and business people, "She added.

Oben said that economic vitality of Voi town has been accompanied by job opportunities for the youth.

The county official said plans are afoot to launch a marketing campaign to showcase investment opportunities within Voi town in strategic areas like tourism and agro-processing.

Japhet Njagi, assistant shift attendant at Voi station, said before the SGR arrived, the town was in a sleepy mode, a factor which has drastically changed.

"As you can see, the town has experienced huge growth since the SGR arrived two years ago. Even the GDP of Voi town has grown considerably, a positive move that can be attributed to the trains that stop here," Njagi told Xinhua.

The 29-year-old's day job includes arranging of shifts to make sure passengers are accorded efficient services at the station from the booking office to the waiting room and ensure they get the best experience up to the time they board the train in line with regulations.

Njagi started working in Voi station in 2017, the same year the SGR commenced operations.

"Our number one priority is safety because of the train's speed, so basically we are the passengers' stewards, "said Njagi.

He said tourism is on the rise and that so many tourists pass through the station heading to Tsavo East and Tsavo West national parks, adding that Voi is the best place to be for the youth.

Jacob Odhiambo, 19, who studies at Taita Taveta University, said he uses the SGR because of speed, convenience and comfort.

"I have used SGR for the last one year and it has opened up the transport sector, especially roads that link to the station which have been developed to ease movement of commuters," said Odhiambo.

Aj Ringera uses the SGR whenever he is traveling between Nairobi and Mombasa because it is convenient and fast.

"Time is money so when I board the SGR, I spend only four hours, as opposed to a bus that takes more than six hours, so it saves time, which in return helps the economy of Kenya," said Ringera.

"It also cuts by half the cost of travel, but many people haven't yet realized it. I wish it can continue up to Kisumu or the border of Uganda where it can save a lot of people," he added.

Anderson Mjomba Mshila, a tuk-tuk driver, has positive view of the the SGR because he earns a living ferrying passengers from the station to their destination.

"There is also some new developments in the housing sector, which has happened because of the SGR as many people moved to invest in this area," said Mshila.

"Since the arrival of the SGR I can make a profit of over 1,000 shillings daily (about 10 U.S. dollars) and this is after catering for the daily expenditures, so in a good day I make over 25 U.S. dollars," he added.

William Lewa Mawowo, a taxi driver, said he can ferry a customer from the SGR station in Voi to their respective destinations and earn extra coins.

"So the least I can say is that business is good," said Mawowo.

Augustine Mwanake, general manager of Voi Wildlife Lodge, said tourism has for the last one year been on the rise with visitors who book online traveling to the facility using SGR passenger train.

"Majority of our visitors come from Europe, especially Italy, Germany and Poland. Some come for a one day stop-over after visiting the park whereas some spend their weekend with us," said Mwanake.