Kenya has launched freight services on a new billion-dollar extension of a China-funded railway line to the country’s heart, but questions remain over the viability of the project after authorities failed to secure Chinese financing to extend the line to the border with Uganda.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta launched cargo operations on the new US$1.5 billion section of the Standard Gauge Railway between the capital and Naivasha, a town in the Rift Valley.
“This will not only help relieve pressure on the Port of Mombasa and the Nairobi Inland Container Depot, but will also take the cargo closer to Uganda and South Sudan by a further 120km (75 miles),” Kenyatta said.
Also at the launch was Chinese President Xi Jinping’s special envoy State Councillor Wang Yong, Chinese ambassador to Kenya Wu Peng and China Communications Construction chairman Liu Qitao.
Wang said Kenya and China were engaged in a mutually beneficial partnership that would work to the advantage of the people of both countries.
The 120km section of rail line was funded by Exim Bank of China and is an extension of the US$3.2 billion line from Mombasa on the coast to Nairobi.
The plan was originally to extend the line further to Malaba on the border with Uganda. But amid accusations of debt-trap diplomacy, Beijing expressed reservations about the financial viability of the upgrade and asked for a new feasibility study to be conducted before it would release any funds.
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Since then, the Kenyan government has decided instead to overhaul the existing British-built metre-gauge railway, which was built more than a century ago and does not allow trains to move as quickly as the standard gauge system.