The Wednesday launch of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) linking Nairobi to the port city of Mombasa has sent ripples of excitement among Kenyans from all walks of life.
Faster and safer trips, better business and prospects of more investment inflow are among the reasons for them to be excited about the railway, deemed as a flagship project of China-Kenya practical cooperation.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Chinese State Councilor Wang Yong are scheduled to attend a ceremony marking the completion of the about 480-km railway project that is expected to boost economy with improved connectivity.
Kenyans drawn from different shades of opinion and socio-economic status who spoke to Xinhua said the launch of the Mombasa-Nairobi line will be a defining moment for their country and the wider East African region.
Boniface Gitau, a 36-year-old small business owner, said he was eager to ride on the SGR train with his family to enjoy the scenic attractions that dot lower eastern parts of Kenya and the coastal region. "I have only travelled to Mombasa by bus and the journey is usually tiresome and financially draining. The launch of SGR heralds good tidings to regular Kenyans whose dream of a transformed country will be realized on that day," Gitau said.
As for Betty Kilonzo, a hair stylist, the SGR will ease end of the month travels to her hometown in lower eastern Kenya where her ageing parents live.
"What I have gathered is that the SGR train is very different from the old wagons I have always used to commute to my ancestral village. Now we have a modern railway track that will benefit people in my place of birth immensely," said Kilonzo. The Kenyan government has put elaborate measures in place to ensure the historic launch of the SGR project does not experience hitches.
The launch of SGR will pave way for hassle-free and cheaper transport from Nairobi to Mombasa while positioning Kenya as an unrivalled manufacturing, trade and investments hub. Gitau and his fellow retailers were optimistic the modern railway line will usher in an era of faster movement of goods from Mombasa to the hinterland.
"What I am impressed most about the SGR is the drastic reduction of hours taken to travel from Nairobi to Mombasa. I am aware it will take an average of five hours to commute from Nairobi to Mombasa compared to eight hours by bus," said Gitau. He has plans to travel to Mombasa frequently using the SGR train and purchase additional merchandise to expand his business located on the eastern fringes of the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
Kenyan officials are looking forward to a future of unprecedented transformation upon the launch of the Mombasa-Nairobi railway on Wednesday.
Cabinet Secretary for transport and infrastructure James Macharia said at a television interview on Sunday evening that besides revolutionizing the transport sector, the SGR is also expected to stimulate investments in advanced manufacturing in Kenya and the region. "In terms of industrialization and job creation, the impacts of SGR will be massive," Macharia said, adding that the modern railway line has already boosted Kenya's prestige and attractiveness to investors.
His sentiments were shared by Munene Mungai, a senior assistant director for infrastructure at the Presidential Delivery Unit, who hailed the launch of SGR project for setting a precedent for other Africa countries aspiring to achieve middle-income status.
"As a country, we have entered a critical milestone in our history now that the first modern railway is about to commence operations," Mungai told Xinhua during a recent interview. "This is a new dispensation in our transport sector and the country will experience rapid transformation as the SGR becomes operational from the first day of June," he added.
The East African nation is banking on the SGR to ease congestion at the port of Mombasa and reduce cost of transporting bulk cargo and passengers to the hinterlands. Managing Director of Kenya Railways Corporation Atanus Maina struck a positive note when he termed the SGR a game changer in regional transport.
"I am sure many Kenyans are keen to witness the huge benefits that will be accompanied by launch of the SGR project. This is a legacy project for this country and its citizens," Maina said.