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Bids for preliminary design of the standard-gauge whose first tender was cancelled were opened on Friday.
Bids for preliminary design of the standard-gauge whose first tender was cancelled were opened on Friday.

The winner of the tender, which attracted 25 firms, will provide information such as the specific routes, costs and design standards for the proposed standard gauge railway line from Mombasa to Malaba.

The project involves building a modern, high-capacity standard gauge railway line between Mombasa and Malaba with a branch line to Kisumu.

“It was a question of ensuring that Kenyans gets value for its money,” Kenya Railways Corporation managing director Nduva Muli explained the cancellation. The first tender attracted interest from 16 firms.

An evaluation committee awarded the tender to a South Korean company but a second team overturned it and gave the contract to the Italians. But then Mr Muli says the successful bid, at Sh1.2 billion, was above the government’s Sh700 million-budget.

But are the studies necessary? “Kenyans have a right to be frustrated but no investor will finance any infrastructure project without serious and independently audited studies,” Mr Muli said, noting that the proposed railway line is estimated to cost between Sh400 billion and Sh480 billion.

Unlike the current track, which was built on the basis of least resistance causing to meander as it avoided valleys and hills, the proposed train will be as straight as possible, involving erection of bridges over valleys and drilling through hills.

The railway will be served by trains measuring 1.5km-2km long and travelling at 120km per hour for passengers or carrying up to 10,000 tones of freight per trip, making the journey between Mombasa and Nairobi in three hours.

Construction is expected to commence in February 2012 with the Nairobi-Mombasa section set for completion in two years before reaching Malaba and Kisumu in 2017. “It may arrive in Malaba and Kisumu earlier than that because lessons learnt from the Nairobi-Mombasa section will enable the contractors to speed up the process,” said Mr Muli.

The line, which is earmarked to extend from Mombasa along the Indian Ocean to Juba in Southern Sudan, Bangui in the Central African Republic and Douala in Cameroon on the Atlantic ocean coast, will make Kenya a transport hub in on the continent.

With big ships from the Far East forced to go through South Africa to access the West African markets, the rail could see them offloading the cargo in Lamu for it to be transported over the 4,000km by land to the western coast.

“It will take three days to transport it by train to Doula as opposed to four weeks by sea. Since it cost $500,000 to run a big ship per day, that is a major saving,” he said, “Even shipping lines will be ready to built and operate it.”