A Tale of Two Lines & Two Lions (& the Inland Container Depot, Embakasi, Nairobi (ICDE) – Welcome to SGR Kenya).

A Tale of Two Lines & Two Lions  (& the Inland Container Depot, Embakasi, Nairobi (ICDE) - Welcome to SGR Kenya).

By Chris Prior, Director Worldwide Movers Kenya

Line One was built over a five-year period from 1896 to 1901, cost £5.6 million & initially ran 1050 kilometers from Mombasa Port to Kisumu in upper Kenya. First named the Uganda Railway, it carried just about everything including the renowned of the day, including Churchill, Roosevelt & Hemmingway.

It was financed by the UK & built by workers from Kenya, Uganda, Britain and from the Indian Subcontinent including my wife’s great grandfather whose family settled in Kenya. After throwing off criticism, the line was a success carrying Uganda & Kenya farm produce, cash crops, cotton, coffee, tea, grains, livestock, timber, cement, quarry stone, some luxuries and of course passengers from all backgrounds including civil servants, civilians, tourists, stars, royalty and school children like myself. What a journey.  But over the many successful years of operation, the line’s worn infrastructure has finally been overtaken with age, its last years, providing an unsatisfactory container handling service level in today’s day & age. As the line was constructed, the two notorious lion Man Eaters are an important part of this story, terrorizing and consuming a number of railway workers at Tsavo, 150 kms from Mombasa but that was well before I travelled to and from boarding school in Nairobi.

Line Two, financed by China at a cost of $3.2 billion and built by workers from Kenya and China, has now reached Nairobi and is set to continue to Kisumu. Known as “SGR Kenya”, this successor introduced passenger services in late 2017 and is now providing efficient Import & Export container freight services from the ICDE into Mombasa Port. 

Currently, at least one train is arriving and departing daily with the largest train hauling 103 TEU’s. 

Wagons load either 20 or 40 footers and since HHG&PE traffic is traditionally low in weight, SGR Kenya load a 20ft of similar weight because of haulage stability: the train can derail if a wagon is not balanced correctly. This means a 20ft container load takes longer, 14 to 21 days to get from Mombasa up to the ICDE in Nairobi.  Forty footers are quicker with 5-12 day delays.

The trip back to Mombasa for exports still has delays for 20 footers over 40s but is not so bad as we can control to some extent an ICDE delivery of 2 x 20ft containers at the same time, especially if we receive more jobs from our colleagues overseas!

The ICDE is now receiving 40% of all Kenya container traffic which is only expected to increase because the Government has directed SGR Kenya to be used for all TEU consignments destined to and from Nairobi (and beyond). This is OK if the rail service continues to work effectively and the Mombasa -Nairobi road should see the benefit with less damage and accidents through the reduction of heavy trucks. 

To handle the extra container moves by rail, the ICDE has expanded dimensionally and with new equipment but there are teething problems with resultant delays occurring in container handling and release. Basically, Mombasa Port problems are now experienced up-country resulting in the increase in Worldwide Movers staff & equipment demanded to handle the persistent issues.

But overall, SGR Kenya is a welcome logistical arm and a benefit to users.