BWIRE: Why Nairobi light rail system is the best option

By Victor Bwire

Hey wait a minute. How does the Nairobi City urban plan look like? Is it there in the first place?

While the Government, mostly the national government is overworking to make life in Nairobi and other cities manageable, the efforts might be an overkill. Planners have on many occasions advised that over planning is dangerous.

Is there concurrence between the thinking of the national and county government in terms of the towns planning?

The new thinking on transport and decongesting the city through the express highway rail might be too expensive, advanced and not suitable for now.

Build the earlier planned light rail system from JKIA through the central business district to Westlands and while at it divert the one from the CBD along Ngong and Langata roads as you stop matatus from plying these routes.

This will not only decongest the town, but as within our Green Economy strategy reduce carbon emissions within town and keep it safe and clean. These together with the work of the Nairobi Regeneration Team, better housing under the big four agenda and focused investments in sanitation and health will see the return of “the sun in the city”.

While among the biggest challenges facing Nairobi, today are a dysfunctional systems public transport and related infrastructure, the silent and most single undoing for the city is associated with planning challenges, which unfortunately will see it uncontrolled and ungovernable.

Listening to the options so far projected in terms of improving transport and decongesting Nairobi city, the Nairobi Light Rail system offered the best option, against the recently launched for profit Express Highway and the abandoned rapid bus transport system.

Just the other day, the Kenya Railways Corporation announced plans to acquire modern and efficient refurbished Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) for use in the Nairobi Commuter Rail (NCR) following a cabinet decision. The cabinet decision followed a study on the Commuter Rail Masterplan within Nairobi Metropolitan region done by KR with support from the World Bank.

The project as presented in the KRs Strategic Plan aims at the modernisation and expansion of underutilised railway transport infrastructure facilities within Nairobi to attract passenger traffic from the roads, thus reducing congestion and creating an efficient and affordable mass rapid transit transport system for the city. It will also integrate rail transport with other modes of transport, namely road and air.

This is also in tandem with the ongoing Government efforts to decongest the Nairobi CBD. It offered the best option to improving transport in the city, both in terms of accessibility, affordability and practicality in modern day Nairobi.

It was the best option of giving life and relevance to KR, after the SGR complication with the long-distance routes.

The Nairobi Community Rail project came amidst unsuccessful attempts at the much hyped launch of the Nairobi Transport Master Plan in which the Government laid down plans for the development of a rapid bus transport system, starting with the following three transport corridors: the Athi River Town to Kikuyu Town (approximately 38 km); Thika Town to the Central Business District (approximately 50 km); and the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to the Central Business District (approximately 25 km).

After several attempts at the rapid bus transport, which seems to now have been shelved, another grand idea was in the offing. The intervention was to get off the town matatus, personal cars on some days and introduce buses.

While it’s not clear what became of the project, lessons from Dar, which has successfully implemented the rapid bus transport indicate, it’s a workable project. It’s working very well in Dar.

As Nairobi were still waiting for these grand ideas, the Government, in a stroke of a pen announced it was launching the 27km express highway from JKIA to Westlands cut through Uhuru Park. Outside whether feasibility studies were done, the environmental impact of such and related anticipated destruction of property and biodiversity with the new project.

Again, just like in other sectors, the Government was privatizing a critical social service, convinced that instead of Government investing in such, Kenyans will pay for the service. Commercialization of basic social service seems to be the norm in Kenya.

Within the new project is the expectation that users will pay a toll fee including motorists paying between Ksh.111 and Ksh.555 to use the highway. The project will be done by the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) who will manage it for 30 years, with a protection clause that and within this period no project that will affect its profitability will be implemented.

While this is happening, the SGR new route is taking shape and it will be interesting how this project will pan out. The project will be a four-lane dual carriageway, to connect the Nairobi-Mombasa section and the Nairobi-Malaba section.

While the projects are safe as many of them have been hinged on the current Government’s term, it will be interesting, for example if there is a change of political leadership, if the subsequent Governments would have honored some of these contracts.

The author is the Programmes Manager at the Media Council of Kenya