Enhanced road network to ease congestion as SGR shifts cargo logistics to Nairobi


In an effort to decongest the city, the government has created all the requisite infrastructure needed to evacuate freight from the Embakasi ICD once the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) becomes operational in June this year.

The SGR phase one construction, which runs from Mombasa to Nairobi, has taken a shorter time than expected- a move the Kenya Railways managing director Mr Atanas Maina attributes to timely disbursement of funds by the government and Exim Bank of China, extensive and rapid mobilization of manpower and resources by the experienced contractors and speedy rate of land acquisition.

Embakasi ICD, located within the Nairobi environs is a key component of the SGR project since all the cargo transported through the SGR will be offloaded at the facility for clearance by the importers or their agents.

As a result, some industry players had expressed fears that increased activities around the city would choke the already congested Nairobi and its environs. However, the KR has allayed their fears saying that the 3 access roads to ICD will be sufficient to handle the expected increase in volumes.

The road connection from ICD to the Eastern bypass has already been completed, says Mr Maina. He also added that the construction of the road to connect the ICD to the Southern bypass will start soon since the land acquisition issues that had delayed the process have since been resolved.

There are plans to upgrade another road from ICD to Industrial Area by the Kenya National Highways Authority (KenHa). Preliminary designs have already been completed and the government is now seeking financiers to fund the project. Meanwhile, it will still serve under its current status. ICD will also have an additional outlet through the road under construction connecting both the ICD and Nairobi South Hub to the Mombasa Road at a junction next to the Nation Depot.

“The three (3) outlets should initially be adequate for freight evacuation from the ICD and from the Nairobi South Hub for at least five (5) years by which time connection to the Southern bypass and connection to the Industrial Area should be ready,” KR managing director Mr Atanas Maina said in an interview.

The upgrading of the ICD has been going on and is expected to be completed by the end of August when it will be ready for use. The facility is being upgraded to create an extra capacity to handle the increased volumes of the cargo that are expected to be delivered on rail.

The existing ICD has the capacity to handle only 180,000 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUS) per annum that is currently being delivered by the existing Metre Gauge Railway (MGR). Both the SGR and MGR will be expected to handle at least 405,000 TEUs per annum prompting the need for expansion and modernisation to meet this huge demand. This translates into approximately eight (8) freight trains per day delivering containers at the ICD at the maximum operation stage.

Trains hauling cargo from the port of Mombasa will terminate at the Nairobi South Marshalling Yard. Freight for the ICD will be transferred by special shunting movement and placed on SGR lines in the depot for offloading. Freight from the ICD to Mombasa will be loaded at the ICD and transferred to Nairobi South Marshalling Yard, where it will join other traffic for Mombasa.

While the ICD-Nairobi will handle containers for customs clearance in Nairobi, the Nairobi South Hub will handle containers already cleared in Mombasa.

“We expect that industrialists will take advantage of the safe, reliable and faster transit time of the SGR to be placing orders for their inputs for “just-in-time” usage compared to current practice where they have to keep high stocks of imported raw materials unsure of the delivery of the next consignment,” Mr. Maina said.

ICD does not expect long dwell-time for freight at the depot, but should this be prevalent, the KR says it will device suitable measures to discourage delay with an understanding that the ICD capacity is limited and cannot accommodate overstaying freight under any circumstances.

“The ICD operators will device suitable incentives to encourage swift removal of freight from the facility,” Mr Maina added.

In Mombasa, when the port experienced a serious congestion, port to adopted the concept of Container Freight Stations (CFSs), creating an extra capacity outside the port to handle both outward and inward bound containers to decongest the facility.

The arrangement has worked very well so far for Mombasa in the last one decade but with the additional transport capacity offered by SGR, which is expected to handle between 30-40 percent of the cargo generated from the port, the role of CFSs in Mombasa will reduce considerably.

“Regarding CFSs in the vicinity of ICD Nairobi, local freight owners will be encouraged to clear their freight to door destinations immediately on arrival as the surest way to reduce their cost of transportation,” Mr Maina said.

However, there is optimism by the industry players that CFSs, an innovative concept, will be replicated in Nairobi to create more business opportunities for the private sector players as well as increase efficiency at the ICD.

All agencies involved in clearing cargo that includes Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and security will be housed at the ICD facility. The expansion and modernisation of the Depot are providing a one-stop-shop clearing post for all the clearing activities including imports and exports.

KPA will basically be involved in the offloading of containers from the container wagons onto the stabling yard to release the wagons back into traffic. This is a process expected to take approximately 18 hours for a standard container train conveying 216 containers double stacked on the wagons, Mr. Maina said in an earlier interview.

“The length of time the container would stay in the ICD will depend on other factors including customs clearance and response by the customer to take possession of their imports,” Mr Maina said.

Private sector players are already investing on extensive go-downs and yards next to the ICD and which they can use to enter into arrangements with KPA and customs to provide CFS services. They are suitable locations along the corridor – for instance next to Athi River and Konza Stations that may be considered for the same purpose.

A Data Center and ICT fiber infrastructure with backup links will be built to enhance system performance. Also, an Integrated Security System (ISS) comprising of multiple interrelated subsystems such as CCTV Surveillance, Access Control, Perimeter Intrusion Detection Systems (PIDS), internal yard zoning, automated gate control elements, and Security Control and Command Rooms is part of the ICD upgrade.

The first phase of the Sh 327 billion Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) will be in use by June 2017 after successfully running the passenger train test in March. The phase runs from Mombasa to Nairobi and is being constructed by the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC).

Phase 2 of the SGR project takes the line to Malaba for onward connection to the Ugandan network. Due to the difficult terrain as well as the cost involved, the Phase 2 could not be developed as one unit and has been split up into three sub-phases, Phase 2A from Nairobi to Naivasha (Mai Mahiu- Suswa), phase 2B, Naivasha to Kisumu (via Narok and Bomet) and phase 2C from Kisumu to Malaba (via Yala and Mumias)

SGR is expected to be a major boost for Kisumu town and Lake Victoria water transport system, according to the proposed plan. Prior to discontinuing rail services to Kisumu, the existing Kisumu port was handling approximately 600,000 tonnes of freight annually destined for Uganda and Northern Tanzania.

“The Feasibility Study for the SGR realised that this volume of freight and even much more is still available and can be captured by SGR,” Mr. Maina said earlier.

The existing port has certain challenges that include inadequate draft, which limits the capacity of vessels it can dock. It was therefore decided to build a new port with higher capacity for anticipated freight growth in the region. The existing port has already been handed over to the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA).

“The new port will, therefore, continue to play the same role as the old port by providing a cost effective freight transport link to the well-developed ports of Mwanza, Musoma and Bukoba in Northern Tanzania and Port Bell and Jinja in Uganda.”