Kenya is part of a master railway plan—one that will eventually link Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Southern Sudan by a standard railway. This high-speed, high-capacity railway will be for freight and passengers and is being completed in phases. Phase One, the lines between Mombasa and Nairobi, was completed in mid-2017. Phase Two, the lines between Nairobi and Malaba, which is located on the western side of Kenya, on the Ugandan border, is underway. Phase One has been met with much concern and resistance from many groups as it passes through two of Kenya’s wildlife areas: Tsavo and Nairobi National Parks.
Features of Kenya’s high-capacity SGR
· The standard grade was selected so that Kenya can eventually, and seamlessly, connect to neighboring railways in Uganda, Rwanda and, eventually, South Sudan.
· Each freight train will have a haulage capacity of 4,000 tons (216 TEUS) with a designed speed of speed of 80 km/hour (50mph) [i] .
· Each passenger train will have a capacity of 960 passengers and with a designed speed of 120 km/hour (75 mph).
· The railway is being built by China Road and Bridge Corporation [ii] .
· Construction of the railway began in 2014 with an investment of $3.8 billion (USD), 90% of which is funded by China’s Exim Bank [iii] .
What does the railway mean for Kenya’s wildlife?
The first phase connects Mombasa to Nairobi and is roughly 480km (300 miles) in length. Of that, about 140 km run through Tsavo National Park. Tsavo is one of Kenya’s top safari destinations and is also its largest park. A 2017 census showed that the elephant population has risen above 12,000 again [iv] , which is great news.
According to Kenya Railways, the railway has been designed for environmental compatibility particularly within the National Parks where fencing will be provided along with underpasses for wild animals thereby ensuring minimal animal displacement [v] . It further claims that the National Land Commission (NLC) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWs) were consulted on Tsavo and Nairobi National Parks and negotiations were made on how to ensure the railway wouldn’t harm the animals. In some areas, the train will be elevated on pillars, sometimes as high as 40 meters, so that animals can pass freely below it. In other instances, they have constructed underpasses to help ensure minimal animal displacement [vi] .
Kenya’s safari tourism and the SGR
According to the Director General of KWS, some elephants have been collared and are adapting positively to the new SGR [vii] . However, according to research done by Save the Elephants, who has been recording elephant movements since March 2016, eight elephants have been killed due to the SGR embankment barriers in 2016. In recent years, the average annual kill from road carnage was two elephants [viii] . Unfortunately, there has been a significant increase in the roads and railways that cut through wildlife-rich areas.
Source: Your Africa Safari