How does it feel riding in the fastest train in Kenya from Mombasa to Nairobi across various counties? Most people would agree it’s an experience of their life time. Its especially more memorable while passing through those raised sections of the rail bridges. Watching the ground from above gives a unique bird’s eye view which is not common.
There is this proposal that the Standard Gauge railway would pass through Nairobi National Park. Proposals being fielded are that the rail bridge will be raised up the sky and be supported by high pillars. Being high up in a national park could be the most memorable part of a train ride as it may give travelers a chance to watch wildlife, lower in the plains.
Speaking about the wildlife, the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is expected to be complete by June 2017. If the proposal that has been submitted to NEMA is approved, the proposed 8.85Km SGR will be located within Nairobi National Park which is the first national park in Kenya and indeed in East African region covering an area of 117Km2. Did you know that it is one of the most unique protected areas in the world due to its location, which is about 7 Km from Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya? The park receives more than 100,000 visitors annually earning the country visitation revenue amounting to approximately USD 0.6 million per year.
The park fears for major challenges that may come in the future due to its closeness to the rapidly expanding city which may threaten to undermine the importance of the park. The south and east part of the park is highly infested by settlements and industrial development that are blamed for curtailing the seasonal movement of migrating wild animals across its unfenced southern boundary. In addition, the unique ecosystem is threatened by development projects. You are all familiar with the just concluded controversy regarding the construction of the Nairobi Southern bypass which was blamed for encroaching the northern boundary. With that not enough, the new SGR is hereby scheduled to take the railway through the heart of the same Nairobi National Park.
Going back to the SGR ride its crucial that we analyze why the traveler considers this ride as the most memorable. Of course the train speeds are amazingly fast. Taking about 4 hours from Nairobi to Mombasa is quite a saving considering that we spend about 8 hours while using the road and avoiding the speed cameras. With this speed I do not think travelers will be able to enjoy seeing the wildlife in the park.
I also recall there is a proposal that noise deflectors will be placed along the bridge to reduce noise of the trains as they move along which may scare the animals. If the noise deflectors are installed, I wonder whether they will be transparent enough to allow wildlife watching while traveling in the train. However, considering that this was not your primary objective, you will get satisfied by being up there in the sky and reflecting how wild animals are enjoying themselves below the rail is quite an experience.
I am sure as you enjoy your ride up there on the raised bridge, you’ll not fail to reflect on some of the arguments that were put forward by diverse stakeholders regarding that project. For instance from an economic perspective, there are arguments about benefits of the SGR such as increased trade between upcountry and the coast as well as accessing export markets faster and easily. This is especially notable for the perishable goods. Increased trade also creates employment to many people. What about the traffic snarl-ups experienced on Mombasa Road whenever an incident occurs on the road and travelers spend days stuck in the jam? What about the damage to our roads by overloaded trucks? Everyone would be happy that all these negative experiences of our travel to Mombasa will be a thing of the past. I am sure you will not fail to consider yourself as one of the beneficiaries of this broad economic benefit brought by SGR.
But I am sure there will also be discussions about concerns raised by conservationists. This group would have preferred that the SGR uses another route and not the national park. Their arguments liken the SGR as “someone coming to your residence place and destroying your shelter and what you call a home”. They argue that the preparation of the ground for laying the railway will require vegetation clearing and cut down of trees of which act as habitat for diverse wildlife. But did you know that passing through other routes would cost an extra USD 12.34 million?
The conservationists have also argued that the existing area of the park will be reduced or lost and the animals may be congested in the remaining park area. Of course you will need answers as to whether this interference with the park and existing wildlife affect the tourism activities and therefore giving a loss in the income generated from the park.
I am sure also that as you discuss all this, you will not fail to reflect on the role played by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) through her Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. You will wonder whether all the impacts were identified and documented and whether the community members living around the area of project were adequately involved. You will also wonder whether the negative effects identified were adequately mitigated to prevent adverse effects or minimize the current effects. You will be interested to get assurance whether NEMA’s decision managed to preserve the precious wildlife asset for current and future generations, as well as ensure sustained economic benefits from the SGR project.With this discussion, you will definitely not fail to develop a perception about NEMA and its role in this project.
Hence a train ride above Nairobi National park will be a unique experience where you feel in the sky, scramble for strategic positions next to the window to see the wildlife, and evaluate the wisdom of current day decision makers. I am sure the travelers will enjoy very lively discussions.