The $US 5.2bn line will be constructed by China Road & Bridge Corporation and is estimated to take five years to complete. Passenger trains will be able to run at a maximum speed of 120km/h while freight trains will operate at 100km/h. This will cut the journey time for passenger services from 13 hours on the existing metre-gauge line to around 4 hours.

The line is part of a three-phase $US 13.4bn project being funded 85% by China's Exim Bank with the remaining 15% coming from the Kenyan government. The next phase comprises an extension from Nairobi to Malaba on the border with Uganda while the final phase will run from Malaba to Uganda's capital Kampala.

"Improved infrastructure on the northern corridor will increase business volumes for our port and with bilateral help of China, Kenya will soon have a world-class railway," said president Kenyatta. "This in turn will spur expanded production and reduce the cost of goods and services. This dividend is the prize we seek for East Africa."