by Naftali Mwaura and Chu Xinyan
NAIROBI, Dec. 19 (Xinhua) -- When Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged off the Nairobi-Naivasha Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) freight service on Tuesday, an otherwise balmy atmosphere gave way to jubilation from a sizeable crowd that witnessed the epoch moment.
The surreal occasion was punctuated by loud blaring of the modern cargo train as it snaked along the expansive platform at the Nairobi SGR terminus in readiness for a 120 kilometers journey to the resort town of Naivasha.
Kenyan police band enlivened the mood of dignitaries and ordinary citizens by playing patriotic ballads when the Nairobi-Naivasha freight service commenced its operation.
President Kenyatta who savored every moment as the SGR phase 2A freight service kicked off its maiden journey to Naivasha's Inland Container Depot (ICD), said it added luster to Kenya's reputation of a regional transportation and logistics hub.
"Today, we mark the commencement of the freight train services to Naivasha ICD, thus making an unequivocal statement that we as a people are ready to ascend," said Kenyatta.
He said the Nairobi-Naivasha SGR freight service, that is part of the proposed Mombasa-Nairobi-Kisumu/Malaba SGR project, will open Kenyan hinterland, stimulate growth and boost regional integration.
Wang Yong, Chinese State Councilor and also special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping, was among dignitaries who graced the ceremony to commission phase 2A of SGR cargo service and Naivasha's Inland Container Deport amid fanfare.
He said the launch of freight services along the Nairobi-Naivasha SGR corridor marked a critical milestone in railway development in Kenya and the African continent as envisioned in China's proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The launch of phase 2A of SGR freight service and the Naivasha's dry port created a frenzy amid optimism on their potential to transform the country's economy through safe, fast and efficient transportation of bulk cargo.
Tobias Otieno, general manager in charge of infrastructure development at Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) said that freight operations at the extended railway line will ease congestion at Mombasa port and the road network linking Nairobi to western Kenya.
"The importance of ICD and additional infrastructure is that it is going to enhance the handling of freight cargo destined for countries neighboring Kenya on the west," said Otieno.
He said that transit cargo will be ferried directly from Mombasa port to Naivasha ICD where trucks will pick them for onward transportation to the hinterland or neighboring countries.
"So the distance will be shortened and transportation of goods will be less costly," said Otieno adding that decongestion of the highway linking Nairobi to western Kenya will be guaranteed through minimal use of trucks to transport bulk cargo.
He said the launch of the SGR phase 2 A freight service will stimulate the growth of towns along its corridor through investments and trade.
Kenyans from all walks of life hailed the operationalization of passenger and freight services along Nairobi-Naivasha SGR route saying they will open up the once sleepy hinterlands.
Joe Leyuya, a 14-year-old teenage boy from the nomadic Maasai community said he looked forward to a train ride from his remote village near Naivasha's ICD to Mombasa.
"I have always been confined to my village here in Naivasha and look forward to a visit to Mombasa and enjoy a walk along the beach now that the SGR train will be docking at our doorstep," said Leyuya.
Entrepreneurs too welcomed the launch of Nairobi-Naivasha SGR freight service saying it presents a faster, efficient and safer alternative to the cumbersome and costly road transportation of consumer goods.
He Qinwen, a Chinese businessman who runs a 53 acres fruit farm on the shores of Lake Naivasha, said he was optimistic the modern cargo train service will contribute to the growth of his business through enhanced market linkages.
"In the future, a large number of fruits grown in my farm will be transported by rail to all parts of Kenya, across the eastern Africa region and the Middle East," said He.
The Chinese entrepreneur grows strawberries, dragon fruit, figs, mangosteen and cantaloupe in his farm while poor road network has undermined his ability to deliver the produce to the local market on timely basis.
Kenyan scholars hailed the launch of Nairobi-Naivasha SGR freight saying it will unleash multiple benefits that include easing congestion at the busy northern transport corridor, stimulate industrial growth and create additional jobs.
"The SGR phase 2A freight service will provide an incentive for local and foreign industrialists to use Naivasha as a base to convert raw materials to make competitively priced finished goods for local and international markets," said Edward Kusewa, an economic lecturer at Nairobi based St Paul's University.
Gerrishon Ikiara, an ex-permanent secretary in the ministry of transport and communication, said the Nairobi-Naivasha SGR cargo service and Inland Container Depot will revolutionize Kenya's transport and logistics sectors and attract new foreign direct investments.