A proud President Uhuru Kenyatta said goodbye to the “lunatic train” on Wednesday when he launched the modern Madaraka Express passenger train service in Mombasa.
Uhuru beamed with the smile of a man who had reached a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.
“This is a historic day…a day when everyone of us should feel proud to be Kenyan,” he said, adding it was a milestone in transformation to an industrialised, prosperous and middle-income country.
He added at the Miritini terminus that “we have launched the Madaraka Express to reshape the story of Kenya for the next 100 years.”
But Uhuru noted that despite criticism at the time of its construction, the lunatic train was Kenya’s foundation in the early years.
It was a century and 22 years ago today when a white colonial master stood under the skies of the picturesque Mombasa island to launch what was called the lunatic express, a railway line that linked the Coast to the shores of Lake Victoria.
Since independence, the country has been stuck with the old line, which has been inadequate and has resulted in pressure on the highway from Mombasa to Nairobi. This has caused delays and exorbitant costs of commuting and moving cargo.
President Uhuru Kenyatta launches the Madaraka Express passenger train service in Miritini, Mombasa, May 31, 2017. /PSCU
The SGR is expected to transform the economy and landscape of Kenya, the same way the lunatic train did.
The passenger train has reduced travel time between Mombasa and Nairobi to between four and five hours. It takes travellers an average of nine to 10 hours to travel by bus between the two cities.
The SGR has also reduced the cost of moving goods as the cargo train takes only five hours to move between the two towns.
The President promised to construct the Standard Gauge Railway, when he got into office in 2013, to replace the old, inadequate line.
In a country known for unfulfilled government promises, many Kenyans assumed the launch would never come to pass.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the SGR took place on November 28, 2013 when it was noted that construction would be completed in five years.
The President held a management conference with China Communication Construction Company and other government agencies every three months, the location of the meetings often being the Chinese company’s field offices.
Uhuru also opened direct communication lines for challenges including funding, government cooperation and community issues to be addressed. Most complaints concerned compensation or access to land.
President Uhuru Kenyatta celebrates during the launch of the Madaraka Express passenger train service in Miritini, Mombasa, May 31, 2017. /PSCU
The project was implemented in two and a half years instead of the five but Opposition leaders have raised concerns about the cost of the project.
Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho demanded to know why it required an extra Sh100 billion. He was to ask tough questions at the launch but police kept him off the venue.
Work on phase two of the Standard Gauge Railway from the city to Naivasha, through the Nairobi National Park, has continued despite stop orders.
Activists said the National Environmental Management Authority licence was awarded illegally.
They are also against having the line cut through conservation areas as there s no justification for this.
Uhuru took his ride with First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, the Chinese delegation, dignitaries and 47 students representing the 47 counties.
Before getting into the train, he said he was proud of his administration.
“I am proud to be associated with this achievement. We have started the journey,” he said.
Uhuru launched the cargo services at a colourful ceremony at Port Reitz on Wednesday evening.
Earlier today, he warned against economic sabotage through vandalism, saying he will pass a law for offenders to be hanged.
Deputy President William Ruto said the SGR is one of Kenya’s biggest milestones that resulted from commitment by the government.
Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a high level delegation led by special envoy State Councillor Wang Yong, to deliver his message of congratulations to Uhuru.
Yong said Jinping was proud that the countries cooperated for mutual gain.