Despite stern warnings that those found to have vandalised the standard gauge railway (SGR) will face severe punishment for sabotaging the multi-billion-shilling transport infrastructure project, more incidents are being reported. There have been arrests and arraignment of the offenders but the crooks appear undaunted.
Perhaps, the most serious is the incident on Monday afternoon, in which the Mombasa-bound “Madaraka Express” passenger train was held up for three hours as Kenya Railways technicians fixed a damaged section of the rail line. Railway security officials said vandals had removed 22 continuous gauge blocks, whose value has not yet been established.
Of particular concern is that the destruction could easily have caused a train derailment. While we commend the technicians for fixing the problem to enable the train to resume its journey within two hours, this is a grave threat that must be seriously addressed. It’s encouraging that police have launched a manhunt in Makueni County for the vandals.
It will be recalled that, while taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown last year, the vandals dismantled a part of the SGR bridge guard rails for sale as scrap metal.
There have also been reports of some wayward people, mostly likely youth, hurling stones at the passenger trains between Voi and Mombasa terminals. This is a risky needless assault on the trains, which provide an exciting experience for passengers and have been pivotal to boosting tourism.
The nearly 500-kilometre Mombasa-Nairobi SGR, touted as the most significant railway development in over a century, is too important to be left at the mercy of small-time crooks. The criminals must be pursued and punished to deter the attacks.
However, it is laudable that there is a campaign to sensitise the residents of areas through which the trains pass to treasure this vital national investment. SGR, which has significantly cut travel time for passengers and cargo, must be guarded.