PREPARATION of Kenya Railways’ (KR) master plan is expected to commence in June, once a contractor has been appointed, and will be completed in March 2018. According to Eng Kithinji Kanyaura, KR’s project manager for infrastructure, the plan includes the $US 300m World Bank-funded Nairobi Urban Transport Improvement project.

NairobiCR“The master plan to define the commuter rail network will start with detailed market studies and demand forecasts for the existing commuter railway alongside the proposed network,” Kanyaura told IRJ during an interview at the KR offices in Nairobi.

In March the World Bank approved KR’s Nairobi Commuter Rail (NCR) master procurement plan, which is intended to “guide the process of establishing mass rail transport with intermodal facilities in Nairobi metropolitan region.”

The NCR is expected to attract a substantial proportion of the 1.5 million who travel into Nairobi city central business district (CBD) every day.

KR has also advertised an international tender for a consultant to carry out an environmental assessment of the NCR master plan, while other consultants will be sought to advise KR on public-private partnerships and how to procure operators.

The plan will provide a roadmap for the expansion of the existing commuter rail service and integration with the soon-to-be-completed standard-gauge line, especially at their point of convergence at the new Nairobi South station and the existing Nairobi Central station, which will eventually be modernised and expanded.

“The plan will also align the commuter rail network to land-use and other requirements through the Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan (Niuplan),” Kanyaura says.
Kanyaura says the plan will not only provide a vision for the existing commuter rail network but also an overview of the financing, possible partnerships and integration of the service with the newly-developed Nairobi master plan.

Under the NRC redevelopment project, KR will use World Bank funds to reconstruct 13 stations with another 19 to be upgraded in subsequent phases of the project.

Nairobi commuter rail services, which were first introduced in 1992, are currently operated by Rift Valley Railways (RVR), the concessionaire of the Kenya Uganda Railway, under a management contract with KR. RVR had previously operated the services under contract to KR but handed back responsibility for them to KR in 2011.

The network carries an average of 11,000 commuters daily on three lines radiating from Nairobi Central station: to Ruiru via Dandora, Githurai and Kahawa, to Syokimau via Makadara and Imara Daima, and via Pipeline to Embakasi Village. The three lines have a twice-a-day service in the morning and evening peak hours.

“We plan to increase daily commuter numbers to 500,000 when the commuter rail redevelopment is fully implemented,” Kanyaura says.

“The challenge we have with the existing commuter rail service is that the little equipment available is too old and inefficient, and the metre-gauge track is not in good shape because investment in maintenance has been inadequate for a long time,” Kanyaura says.

This was confirmed by RVR’s new group CEO Mr Isaiah Okoth who told IRJ in March: “There has been minimal investment in the track for the last 20-30 years so we have a lot of speed restrictions and our rolling stock is old.”

However, when the NCR redevelopment is completed, annual commuter numbers are expected to increase from slightly more than four million today to 15 million and subsequently to 60 million.

“We have submitted financial proposal to the National Treasury to refurbish the existing commuter rail infrastructure to a state of good repair, purchase modern equipment including diesel multiple-units, and construct new stations,” Kanyaura says.

He says some of the existing stations are too far from residential areas and hence do not attract adequate commuter numbers to support a vibrant commuter service. “The new plan will look at providing stations every 500m,” Kanyaura says.

“What we hope to achieve with the commuter rail project is to attract financing for the development of mixed use infrastructure at the stations that could attract the necessary numbers to support an effective commuter rail service.”

This could include residential, commercial and other types of property developed by KR in partnership with the private sector that could make it possible to have at least 40 people per acre. “The mixed land use would enable KR to generate some revenue and create critical numbers for a viable commuter rail service; otherwise the service would require higher subsidies,” Kanyaura says.


Kanyaura said the awaited master plan will provide some guidelines on how the improved NCR will be operated and probably will propose changes to the legal framework to provide for open-access, whereby some of the commuter rail lines could be leased to private operators.

“The legal and regulatory framework currently does not provide for the private operation of commuter services,” Kanyaura explains. “Also, the commercial incentive is weak because these services tend to be highly subsidised the world over.”

The Mombasa - Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), which opens this month, will terminate at the new Nairobi South station on the outskirts of the city. SGR passengers arriving at the station will be able to transfer to the adjacent metre-gauge platform for a train to take them to Nairobi Central.

A rail connection to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is planned. KR has floated an international engineering procurement and construction tender for a turnkey project for civil works, infrastructure and procurement and installation of facilities and diesel or electric multiple unit trains. A 25-minute journey time is envisaged for the 22km trip from Nairobi Central to the airport.

“The challenge that we are facing is the financing of these lines and therefore we are exploring all of our options including public private partnerships,” says KR’s managing director Mr Atanas Maina.

KR has made progress in securing the existing metre-gauge railway corridor from encroachment through a Resettlement Action Programme targeting informal settlements. KR has given away 10m of land on each side of the railway corridor and has developed modern housing to cater for former slum dwellers that had encroached the routes making expansion difficult.

The commuter rail redevelopment will include rehabilitation of up to 149km of existing lines and doubling of tracks at various locations along the corridors.

“The proposals include introduction of passing loops at defined sections, construction of a new track from Nairobi Central to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, new fail safe and reliable signalling, a fuelling and maintenance depot, new rolling stock, and rehabilitation of existing stations and construction of new ones,” Maina says.

He says the rehabilitated and new commuter lines will have provision for electrification but the challenge that needs to be resolved is the reliability of the electricity supply.

In the long term, KR is working with Nairobi City County government to develop a world class Railway City that incorporates mixed-use developments, hotels and intermodal public transport facilities.

“A modern commuter transit hub integrating high-capacity public transport modes will be the core of the Railway City and the expanded Nairobi Commuter Rail network,” Maina says.

“The Nairobi central business district is choking. The Railway City will revitalise the CBD and make Nairobi a globally competitive modern city.”