How the revamping of Kenya’s railway transport system is turning out

The Kisumu Safari Train on the newly-rehabilitated Nakuru-Kisumu line.

Photo credit: Kenya Railways


​​The Government of Kenya has been implementing Kenya’s component of the East African Railway Masterplan, as the country continues to revamp the railway transport sector.

Railway transport is important for improving Kenya’s economic development through increased efficiency and lowered cost of cargo movement between major ports on the Indian Ocean and the hinterland.

So far, the Government has constructed the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) from Mombasa to Naivasha (a distance of more than 500km), and rehabilitated sections of the Metre Gauge Railway (MGR), namely the Thika-Nanyuki line and Nakuru-Kisumu line. Kenya Railways Corporation is in the process of rehabilitating the railway line to Malaba and other branch lines within the country.

The Mombasa to Naivasha SGR and MGR projects also included modernisation and expansion of the inland container depots (ICDs), which are a critical installation in the transport and logistics chain along the Northern Corridor that extends beyond Kenya. New terminals in Malaba and at the Kenya Railways Transit Shed (KRTS) have been developed to assist intermodal last-mile transfer of cargo to client destinations.

Operations at the Naivasha ICD

Photo credit: Kenya Railways

These depots bring port services closer to customers and reduce congestion. They are linked to the Mombasa port container terminal by rail freight services on both the SGR and MGR lines. The cargo, specifically containers, arrive at the Port of Mombasa in two segments: Through Bill of Lading (TBL) and merchant haulage (Non-TBL). The TBL containers have their nominations set to be ICDs as the point of clearance, as per nomination by shipping lines. Under the Non-TBL arrangement, containerised cargo are under C&F to the Port of Mombasa, and onward movement to the hinterland would be at the importer’s choice.

Kenya Railways Transit Shed

KRTS is a temporary storage facility gazetted by the Kenya Revenue Authority. It was officially inaugurated by President Uhuru Kenyatta (now retired) on November 10, 2020.

The shed, which is located within the Nairobi central business district (CBD), was developed following a directive by the Government of Kenya (GoK) to set up a customs facility to allow cargo deconsolidation by small and medium enterprises. The facility has the capacity to handle up to 1,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units), 480 square metres of warehousing space, and adequate handling equipment such as reach stackers and forklifts.

The launch of operations at the transit shed has decongested the Nairobi ICD, while providing services closer to small-scale traders. In collaboration with approved cargo consolidators who directly nominate KRTS as the final point of clearance, small and medium enterprises (or SMEs) enjoy minimised shipping costs and faster transit time.

The current transit time, from the time the containers arrive at the Port of Mombasa to the transit shed, is 18 hours. Previously, importers had to wait for over five days for their shipment to be delivered. Due to its proximity to the CBD, importers enjoy better shipment scheduling, since the documentation process is faster.

Kenya Railways is responsible for all operations within the facility. These include offloading of cargo from the containers and customs shed storage, as well as temporary safe storage while awaiting administrative formalities such as customs clearance.

The Kenya Railways Transit Shed located within Nairobi CBD.

Photo credit: Kenya Railways

Nairobi ICD

The inland container depot in Nairobi, owned and operated by Kenya Ports Authority, is linked by rail from the Port of Mombasa. Following the construction of the Mombasa to Nairobi SGR, the Nairobi ICD was expanded to accommodate a throughput of over 450,000 TEUs per annum from the previous 180,000TEUs, and the increased cargo railed from Mombasa port daily.

The main objective of the Nairobi ICD is to bring port services closer to customers in the hinterland through specialised freight service, making it ideal for shippers of both exports and imports, as well as the handling of empty containers. 

In addition, Kenya Railways provides adequate and enhanced access to the national transport logistics network by ensuring that Port-Rail Integrated Operations are an integral and sustainable element of the nation’s transport corridor. Our clients enjoy seamless cost-effective services, service assurance, and superior customer service.

Nairobi Inland Container Depot at Embakasi.

Photo credit: Kenya Railways

Naivasha ICD

The Naivasha ICD, also served by both SGR and MGR rail connections, plays a key role in the clearance of cargo as well as container handling, and acts as the main trans-shipment point between the SGR, MGR, and road, for freight traffic that is destined for western Kenya and beyond.

Kenya Railways constructed a 23km railway line linking the SGR with the existing MGR at the Naivasha ICD. This ensures a seamless railway network facilitating cargo movement to either Kisumu Port for onward transportation to Uganda on board the MV Uhuru I ship across Lake Victoria, Malaba, the border point with Uganda, or to other destinations in the Rift Valley, Nyanza, and Western Kenya.

Construction of Mai Mahiu-Longonot MGR link line.

Photo credit: Kenya Railways

The Naivasha ICD has improved the efficiency of container mobilisation and eased the pressure on ICD Nairobi operations in the Mombasa seaport and Nairobi terminal. The Naivasha ICD has also supplemented and reduced congestion along the Nairobi-Malaba highway. Our clients enjoy seamlessly interfaced port and rail operations that are cost-effective and safe.

The Mombasa-Nairobi-Naivasha SGR facilitates transportation and related logistical services for goods produced within the Special Economic Zone at Naivasha, and those on transit to nearby towns and neighbouring countries, including freight destined for Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi.

An aerial view of Naivasha ICD.

Photo credit: Kenya Railways

Mv Uhuru I

MV Uhuru I is a Kenya Railways-owned wagon ferry operating in Lake Victoria. Before the suspension of its operations, MV Uhuru operated between Jinja, Port Bell, Mwanza, Musoma, Bukoba, and Kisumu. At over 300 feet (91m), it is the longest vessel operating on any East African lake.

Refitting of MV Uhuru was done in 2019, and the vessel was officially relaunched on May 31, 2021 by the then President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta.  

In addition, the corporation constructed a new 1.8km railway line to the Kenya Pipeline Corporation (KPC) depot to tap into the petroleum products transportation business from the KPC depot in Kisumu to Uganda through MV Uhuru. The rehabilitation of the Nakuru-Kisumu line has also activated a significant amount of commercial freight business along the route from Mombasa and Naivasha.

The refurbished MV UHURU 1 transporting fuel wagons to Port Bell and Jinja, in Uganda.

Photo credit: Kenya Railways


The ship’s carrying capacity is 1,200 tons gross (880 tons net), and it can haul 22 wagons at a time. Since its inception, it has so far transported 95,419 metric tons (which is equivalent to 109 voyages) of petroleum and steel products from Kisumu Port in Kenya to Port Bell and Jinja in Uganda, a distance of 282km.


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