Some of the 20 new locomotives shipped into the country by the Rift Valley Railways (RVR) will be used to ferry passengers instead of cargo if the Kenya Railways Corporation has its way.
The agency said converting the locomotives for passenger services will address delays and inconsistencies on the Mombasa commuter train.
This comes at a time when RVR is in talks with the agency to devise ways of improving both passenger and cargo services with the outcome of the deliberations expected out in the next six weeks.
The corporation’s managing director Atenus Maina says the only way to make the commuter train effective is by using some of the new locomotives on the Mombasa route that is plagued by delays and breakdowns.
The passenger train to Mombasa is supposed to operate three times a week (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) but only shuttles once or twice a week.
“We are facing challenges with the passenger trains to Mombasa and this can only come to an end if we use some of the new locomotives on this route as well as RVR making their operations effective,” said Mr Maina.
Last year, RVR took a Sh1.82 billion loan from CfC Stanbic and Standard Bank, to finance the purchase of 20 locomotives from the General Electric. The loan was to fund 80 per cent of the Sh2.2 billion total cost of the locomotives, with RVR funding the balance.
Speaking to the Business Daily, the MD pointed out that they are reviewing the matter with the RVR to improve the services of their customers. RVR said that there is need to increase investment on the passenger train to make it more effective.
“We admit that there is need for further investments to be made on the service to give our customers their ultimate safari experience,” Sammy Gachuhi, General-Manager Concession and External Communication.
Mr Gachuhi said that RVR believes they can improve their services once the talks with the corporation are completed.
The delays and inconsistencies are taking a toll on the company’s revenue with the number of passengers declining. The Mombasa train is popular among white tourists heading to the coastal city.
Cases of locomotives breaking enroute are rampant and whenever the engine develops mechanical problem, passengers have to wait until the rescue engine comes all the way from the nearest station.
Last week, passengers who were supposed to travel to Mombasa on Wednesday were delayed for a whole night and only travelled the following day.
A passenger travelling to Mombasa from Nairobi pays Sh4,405 in first class, Sh3,385 in second, which includes dinner, bed and breakfast, while third class, which is mainly used by ordinary citizens costs Sh680. The efficiency of commuter trains operating within Nairobi has improved after the management replaced the low capacity locomotives with the bigger ones.
The commuter trains within Nairobi operate between the Railways Station to Makadara, Embakasi, Kibera, Umoja, Ruiru, Kikuyu and Syokimau.
Passengers pay Sh40 per trip for all destinations except to Syokimau where one pays Sh100 for one way.
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Both the cargo and passenger trains are managed by the RVR, which won a 25-year contract to run the 2,352km Kenya-Uganda railway in November 2006 for the cargo business, and a five-year contract for the passenger unit.
Last year, Kenya and Uganda accused RVR of failing to live up to expectations nine years since it won the concession. However, in March this year, RVR said it had met the terms agreed with the Kenya and Uganda governments in May last year.
RVR group chief executive Carlos Andrade said in a statement that the rail firm increased its cargo haulage to 1.883 million tonnes against the set target of 1.737 million in the year to March.
Kenya and Uganda had given RVR until February 2, 2015 to increase its cargo haulage from 1.2 million tonnes, to invest more cash in the upgrade of the Kenya-Uganda line and purchase new wagons.