Nairobi, May 31 (IANS) Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has inaugurated the first phase of a Chinese-funded railway that is set to provide a new network of connections in east Africa, officials said.
The railway, which on Wednesday entered its first full day of service linking Mombasa, the main port in east Africa, to the Kenyan capital Nairobi, was hailed by Kenyatta as being the country’s largest infrastructure project, Efe news reported.
“We should celebrate together,” said Kenyatta, adding that some 40,000 Kenyans had worked for the completion of the project.
He also threatened to hang anyone who committed any acts of vandalism on the train, following reports that several had been arrested for trying to damage it.
The railroad is expected to eventually link cities across Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Ethiopia to the Indian Ocean.
The newly-inaugurated segment, dubbed the “Madaraka Express”, replaced the infamous “Lunatic Express”, which was constructed under British colonial rule and was notorious for the tales of labourers who worked on it being devoured by lions.
Kenya Railways assured that the Madaraka Express would reduce the travel time between the two cities from 10 hours — though most journeys took up to 20 due to frequent breakdowns and delays — to four and a half, and would carry up to 1,260 passengers on each 472-kilometre trip.
The train line is thought to be the greatest infrastructure project carried out in Kenya since it gained independence in 1963 and was primarily funded by the Chinese government, who paid at least $3.3 billion, said the report.
The second phase of the project was ordered to be paralysed due to its expected environmental impact, as it crosses through Nairobi National Park.
During the inauguration ceremony, which took place in the midst of campaigning for the upcoming General Elections, Kenyatta claimed that the project had created 30,000 jobs and would give new momentum to the GDP in a country where a large part of the population survives with $1 per day.
The train will also have a cargo service that is scheduled to begin operating in January 2018.