National Treasury Cabinet secretary Mr Henry Rotich said the new $US 4.7 billion network will improve transit times and reduce the cost of transporting freight from Mombasa to Kisumu by as much as 79%. This is the first time the government has allocated funds for the construction of the line, which will be built by China Roads and Bridges Company.

Phase one of the project will involve constructing the 479km section between Mombasa and the capital Nairobi, while phase two encompasses the 470km Nairobi – Malaba stretch and the 165km branch from Malaba to Kisumu.

The new line will largely follow the route of the existing metre-gauge railway, which is in dire need of upgrading.

State railway operator Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) says development of the high-capacity railway will enable the operation of 10,000-tonne trains and will vastly improve the efficiency of freight transport between the port of Mombasa to at least four countries in eastern Africa.

Passenger trains will operate at up to 160km/h while the maximum speed for freight will be 120km/h, according to technical specifications issued by KRC, which also stipulate a maximum axleload of 32.5 tonnes.