Kenya’s Railway Ticket Sales Double After Easing Covid Restrictions

According to data from the Kenya Railways Corporation, bookings on Kenya’s standard gauge railway (SGR) more than doubled last year due to increased transit between Nairobi and Mombasa when Covid containment procedures were loosened.

Passenger ticket sales increased by 146 percent to nearly two million in 2020, compared to 811,552 in 2020, helping to improve beach tourism in a year when locals contributed 65 percent of tourist revenues to KSh146.51 billion.

The operator of the line from Mombasa to Suswa near Naivasha, China Road and Bridge Corporation, made Sh2.20 billion in sales to travelers, a 145.58 percent increase over KSh896.03 million a year before.

Bookings for SGR travel between Nairobi and the resort city of Mombasa were depressed in 2020 because of Covid restrictions which included a longer nighttime curfew and suspension of services in April and May that year.

The data, collated by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), shows that total sales for freight and passenger services amounted to KSh15.44 billion in the 12-month period ended last December compared with Sh13.33 billion a year earlier.

This is after freight services generated Sh13.24 billion in the review period, a 6.49 percent rise over KSh12.44 billion the year before.

Charges for cargo services averaged Sh2,439.10 per tonne, a drop of KSh375.51 or 13.34 percent compared with 2020.

Freight services were the main economic justification for the $3.6 billion (KSh410.5 billion) President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration pumped into the first phase of project through loans contracted from Exim Bank of China from May 2014.

The SGR line has struggled to attract adequate cargo volumes with importers balking at the tariffs to transport goods from the Port of Mombasa to the Inland Container Depot (ICD) in Nairobi and Suswa for largely consignment destined for western Kenya and neighbouring countries like Uganda and Rwanda.

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers, for instance, argued last year that SGR freight charges were higher than those incurred using road transport.

This negated projections by KRC that freight costs per tonne/kilometre were to fall to $0.083 for importers using the SGR to move goods between Mombasa and Nairobi compared with $0.20 on the

The lobby suggested in the Manufacturing Priority Agenda 2021 that average return transportation cost for trucking a 20-foot container by foot averaged $855 (Sh97,470), nearly double $1580 (KSh180,120) on SGR.

“The additional costs are incurred due to re-marshalling, storage, and demurrage. If removed, the cost of rail transport for 20ft container will be $1,160 (Sh132,240) which is still high compared to road transport by $305 (Sh39,900),” KAM wrote in the report.

“Further, if the cost of empty return by rail, shipping line margins and KPA (Kenya Ports Authority) shunting of empties to empty container depots are removed, the cost of 20ft will be $930 (KSh106,020), creating a difference of $75 (KSh8,550) compared to road.”


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