Kenya’s ambitious Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project has been making headlines since its inception. The initial phase, connecting Mombasa and Nairobi, has proved to be a significant milestone in the country’s infrastructure development.
However, the government’s determination to extend the SGR line to Kisumu, Malaba, and Isiolo at a cost of Sh2.1 trillion has captured the attention of local and global observers.
With the project expected to be ready by June 2027 and with the proposed adoption of the Kisumu–Malaba option as earlier envisaged, it also introduces new lines: Mariakani (Mombasa) to Lamu; Lamu to Isiolo; and Isiolo to Moyale (Ethiopia border). There is also the track from Isiolo to Nairobi and Isiolo to Nakodok on Kenya- and South Sudan border, with the latter, expected to be the longest line at 753.2km and a cost of Sh443.2 billion.
The proposed lines create a link between the SGR and the Lamu Port, South Sudan, Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor. It opens a route to the Port of Lamu for Ethiopia and South Sudan, thereby enlarging the Northern Corridor. Further, it presents opportunities for increased intra-country trade between northern Kenya and the rest of the country.
One of the primary motivations behind Kenya’s push to extend the SGR line is to enhance regional connectivity. By connecting Kisumu, Malaba and Isiolo, Kenya aims to strengthen trade links not only within the country but also with neighbouring countries such as Uganda and South Sudan.
These extensions will facilitate seamless movement of goods, people and services, resulting in increased trade volumes, economic growth and regional integration. The SGR will provide a faster and more efficient mode of transportation, reducing transit times and cutting costs for businesses and individuals alike.
Busy border town
Kisumu, as a major port city on Lake Victoria, holds significant potential for trade and tourism. Connecting Kisumu to the SGR network will open up new avenues for economic growth, attract investment, and spur job creation. Malaba, a busy border town, serves as a crucial gateway to neighbouring countries, and the SGR extension will enhance cross-border trade, stimulate commerce and contribute to regional stability.
Isiolo, located at the heart of Kenya’s northern frontier, has immense potential for agriculture, tourism and energy production. The SGR extension will provide the infrastructure needed to harness and develop these sectors, thereby boosting economic prosperity.
The SGR extension aligns with Kenya’s devolution agenda, which aims to distribute resources and development opportunities equitably across the country. The SGR will reduce regional disparities, promote inclusive growth and empower local economies. Kisumu, Malaba and Isiolo will become major transport and logistics hubs, attracting investment, creating employment and spurring socio-economic progress in previously underserved areas.
The improved connectivity will encourage businesses and industries to set up operations outside major urban centres, leading to a more balanced and sustainable development pattern across the country.
The SGR will also enhance the government’s ability to monitor and safeguard key transportation corridors. The improved infrastructure will facilitate the rapid deployment of security forces, ensuring stability along the borders and within the country.
The SGR will further enhance the nation’s self-reliance and strengthen its position as a regional leader.
Kiendi Ndambuki is a commentator on railway transport infrastructure and development.