Commuter rails: What Kenya needs

Kenya’s capital Nairobi is home to over 4 million people, most of whom rely on the public transport system of Nissan PSVs and buses even with the worst traffic congestions which could be eased by the construction of commuter rails similar to the Syokimau Commuter Rail.

Economic progress for Kenya at this moment is as primary as the oxygen with which we breathe. For the next five decades, government and leadership in Kenya will be judged by their ability to turn the country from rags to riches. Not posturing, not politics.

As of now, Kenya is involved in two primary railway projects, the Standard Gauge Railway and the Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor project. The Standard Gauge Railway will build a railway line from Mombasa to Kigali through Kampala while LAPSSET intends to connect Juba and Addis Ababa from the Port of Lamu.

The common thing about the two projects is that they are set to pin Kenya as the undeniable East African powerhouse. What they lack however is a vision for commute between and within the 47 counties of Kenya. While they are progress towards achieving Kenya’s Vision 2030 by themselves, they still lack the fibre to energize the transport system in the country.

For that reason, these projects which have a regional scope should not be the only projects that Kenyans should be talking about. One prospect that would impact the lives of the population at an instant especially the urban population is prioritization of the construction of light rail and commuter trains, one of which is the Syokimau Commuter Rail which serves close to 20, 000 residents in Syokimau and its environs.

Commuter trains for Kenya like in other developed countries will sanitize the nightmare that is the public transport system. Instead of having every available vehicle push into the capital, let them also have the option to park near the train stations or parking stations outside of the city.

For the average Kenyan, it’s all about cost. Every cent counts into what they have now and what they will have tomorrow. If funds and ideas are not properly managed, the economy will only be a breeding ground for poverty. If not today, what is being given to the economy by taxpayers for the sake of development must be returned in kind to future generations.

Going by a 2014 report by the Economic Intelligence Unit , the cost of living in Nairobi is said to be higher than in any other city in Africa. Consumer goods prices have shot up in the last decade even as the population continues to pay high taxes.

Everyday, the burden for the taxpayers in Kenya grows thanks to the borrowing that the treasury has to make. Truth be told, the country can hardly go anywhere if it doesn’t borrow and spend as much. However, the government and private sectors must leverage the many resources the country has to offer on global platforms.

County Governments

County governments in Kenya are currently facing an acid test. While there has been progress in some counties such as Machakos, most of the other county governments are still in the honeymoon phase bogged down petty political and administrative issues.

The idea of commuter rail is one that can be well handled and inspired from the county level. As for the county of Nairobi, the light rail was needed as soon as yesterday. The history of the county however dwarfs the ability of its government to innovate as it tries to clean up the mess that was dumped on it by previous administrations.

It’s a long shot though, the current state of every infrastructure from roads to bridges in the country speaks volumes on the amount work that needs to been done.

It would also pay to have leaders who don’t care too much about their legacy but more of getting things done. Kenya is currently a country of one hit wonder projects, the Thika Superhighway was one and now another has just been born, the Standard Gauge Railway.

At this rate, it would be better to organize a single concert and let the actors knock themselves out on the stage so that we can go home and rest, once and for all.