"The completion of Nairobi to Suswa section of SGR is expected to revolutionize development of this region through affordable transport. It will also stimulate tourism in the greater Rift Valley," Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said when inaugurating the Chinese-built railway line.
By Naftali Mwaura, Yang Zhen and Chu Xinyan
NAIROBI, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) -- Kenya's Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) linking Nairobi and the resort town of Naivasha welcomed its first passengers on Thursday, one day after Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta presided over the launch of the line.
"The completion of Nairobi to Suswa section of SGR is expected to revolutionize development of this region through affordable transport. It will also stimulate tourism in the greater Rift Valley," Kenyatta said when inaugurating the Chinese-built railway line, which is commonly known as SGR phase 2A.
Transforming the country's hinterland through easier movement of passengers and manufactured goods is not only the Kenyan government's ambition but also an aspiration of the local people living there.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta delivers a speech at the launching ceremony of Kenya's standard gauge railway (SGR) Phase 2A at Maai Mahiu Station in Kenya, Oct. 16, 2019. (Xinhua/Li Yan)
The 120-km SGR phase 2A, which is the latest boost to the railway network of East Africa, includes six stations facilitating passenger transport as well as three tunnels, 29 bridges and 148 culverts.
The railway passes through the famous Ngong Hills, having one of the longest railway tunnels in Africa which is nearly 4.5 km long.
With the infrastructure, the life of the local community living around has also been changed.
Kolian Kinayia, a 21-year-old Maasai, had been a herdsman in the vast plains of southeastern Kenyan county of Kajiado before working a Chinese contractor of the SGR phase 2A.
Expressing gratitude to his parents for supporting him to complete high school, Kinayia told Xinhua that he was also grateful to the SGR contractor for granting him an opportunity to work for a project that has already started transforming the lives of youth in his nomadic Maasai community.
"The number of idle youth in our locality has reduced since most of them managed to secure well-paid jobs during the implementation of the SGR phase 2A project," Kinayia said before the inauguration of the line.
With decent wages from the job given by China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), Kinayia said he plans to join tertiary education and pursue an engineering major to boost his chance to obtain a job in the building and construction sector.
For Kinayia's great grandfather, 96-year-old Kenyan herdsman Ole Kuraru, the direct benefit of the project is a water storage tank of some 1,600 cubic meters.
Clean water from the modest reservoir built from a spring found during the SGR construction is tapped into the surrounding communities of about 10,000 people for free, saving their efforts to search for distant fresh water.
"We are very grateful to the Chinese contractors," Kuraru said.
A train arrives at Maai Mahiu Station on the Nairobi-Naivasha Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) in Kenya, Oct. 16, 2019. (Xinhua/Li Yan)
Fred Kojo, a 26-year-old civil engineering major, has a two-year stint as a field technician for the SGR project.
"The last two years of my work here at the SGR phase 2A project has been very rewarding in terms of income, acquisition of skills and networking," said Kojo.
Though working for the modern railway project was sometimes toilsome, the skills he acquired would be useful in his future career, Kojo said. "I now feel empowered enough to use my expertise in future development of railway infrastructure in this country."
During the construction of the extended railway, the CCCC employed more than 26,000 Kenyans, accounting for 90 percent of its work force along the line.
Additionally, the company cooperated with more than 400 local material suppliers and companies, creating more than 20,000 jobs indirectly.
Altogether, the SGR project had generated about 72,000 jobs and trained nearly 30,000 personnel in both infrastructure and management since 2013 August, according to the CCCC.
People take a selfie before the launching ceremony of Kenya's standard gauge railway (SGR) Phase 2A at Maai Mahiu Station in Kenya, Oct. 16, 2019. (Xinhua/Li Yan)
Also on Wednesday, President Kenyatta inaugurated the Naivasha Internal Container Depot (ICD), which is under construction and will be linked to the Nairobi-Naivasha railway to ease the movement of goods.
Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Wu Peng said he was fully convinced that with the new SGR and ICD, Kenyan people will travel, study, work and do business even more conveniently.
"More business will benefit, more jobs will be created," Wu said.
"As you can see, now the social-economic benefits of Mombasa-Nairobi SGR have already emerged. It facilitates tourism, business, communication and employment," Wu added.
Photo taken on Oct. 16, 2019 shows the Maai Mahiu Station on the Nairobi-Naivasha Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) in Kenya. (Xinhua/Li Yan)
The modern railway line, key to transportation between Nairobi and the towns along the route, is expected to stimulate trade and investments in Kenya's hinterland and neighboring Eastern African countries.
The SGR project will have a far-reaching and positive socio-economic impact on the country through enhanced movement of goods and services, said Gerishon Ikiara, an economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi.
The establishment of a dry port and special economic zones that are an extension of the SGR phase 2A infrastructure, will pave way for the creation of a robust manufacturing and logistics hub in the hinterland, he said.
Ikiara said that some of the immediate benefits from the modern railway line include drastic reduction in the cost of ferrying goods from the port of Mombasa to neighboring countries.
James Mugo, a shop owner at a trading post near Naivasha town said that he looked forward to seamless flows of bulk cargo and passengers across the vast northwestern Kenyan hinterland with the launch of the modern line.
"The majority of traders along the SGR phase 2A corridor have already benefitted from a financial windfall and we expect the trend to continue," said Mugo.
According to Mugo, new investors have pledged to start income generating projects in small towns along the SGR corridor.
"The more Africa's infrastructure develops, faster African entrepreneurs are going to be able to develop,"
China had achieved a great accomplishment in the field of infrastructure, and the world can benefit from the application of China's infrastructural expertise, including in the Kenyan SGR projects, Shameen Prashantham, associate professor of International Business and Strategy at the China Europe International Business School, told Xinhua on Wednesday. Enditem
(Xinhua reporter Wang Xiaopeng in Nairobi also contributed to the story)
(Video reporters: Liu Ruijuan, Yang Yi, James Asante, Eric Nzioka; Video editor: Jia Xiaotong)