World Bank says SGR now ripe for electric trains


World Bank says electric trains on the SGR instead of diesel-run ones could reduce emissions in the sub-sector.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The World Bank has revived calls to replace diesel-powered passenger and cargo trains on the Chinese-built standard gauge railway (SGR) with electric ones to limit pollution, saying the mega-investment has become economically viable to support the change-over.

The multilateral lender said electric trains on the SGR instead of diesel-run ones could reduce emissions in the sub-sector by approximately half.

“Complete electrification of the SGR is estimated to result in annual emissions saving over 53,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, with the majority of the savings coming from the freight rail sector. However, the impact of these emissions is expected to be significantly lower compared to the long-term emissions savings” the World Bank said in a newly released Kenya economic update report.

“With a traffic volume of nearly six million tonnes in 2021, the SGR is becoming economically viable for investment in electrification, aligning with further development of the railway sector. The electrification of the SGR, as outlined in the NCCAP (National Climate Change Action Plan) should be subject to further study” it added.

The NCCAP recommended electrification of the SGR line between Nairobi and Mombasa. The line has since been extended to Naivasha with plans to draw it to western Kenya and link it with a similar project to be undertaken by Uganda.

A recent mega petroleum order by Kenya Railways Corporation(KRC) provided a peek into the cost of running diesel-powered passenger and cargo trains on the SGR.

A disclosure by the State agency showed that it requires more than 38 million litres of automotive diesel to keep locomotives running on the SGR for a year.

This means it costs about Sh6.46 billion to power the trains annually going by the 38.4 million litres of diesel requested from oil marketers by KRC. The prevailing diesel price in Nairobi has been set at Sh168.40.

The latest operating costs of the SGR are not readily available although past documents tabled in Parliament showed it cost about Sh18billion to run the passenger and cargo trains—which means that fuel alone takes up at least 34 percent of the overall operating costs of railway which have in the past dwarfed revenues, fanning public outrage over the viability of the landmark project.

The SGR project, which cost $3.2 billion (Sh419.152 billion) that was largely borrowed from the Exim Bank of China in May 2014, operates passenger services from Nairobi to Mombasa and an inter-county service with stations at Athi River, Emali, Kibwezi, Mtito Andei, Voi, Miasenyi, and Mariakani stations.

Passengers pay Sh1,000 for economy class seats and Sh3, 000 on fast class seats between Nairobi and Mombasa aboard the express train.

Revenue generated from the SGR grew 13.15 percent in the nine months to September last year compared to a similar period in 2021, lifted by improved passenger and cargo movement.

Data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that revenue from SGR operations rose to Sh11.78 billion between January and September this year, up from Sh10.419 billion in a similar period in 2021.

Revenue from passenger services between Mombasa and Nairobi hit Sh1.91 billion, representing a 28.19 percent growth compared to the Sh1.49 billion realised between January and September 2021.

The higher revenues were driven by a sharp increase in the number of passengers who used the fast train service, growing to 1,737,697 travellers travelers up from 1,354,383 in the previous year.

The SGR also ferried 4.55 million tonnes of cargo between January and September this year, up from 3.92 million in the previous year. This saw its cargo revenue also shoot up to Sh9.86.2 billion from Sh8.91 billion.