The governments of Kenya and China have initiated a crash programme to train young Kenyans locally and in universities in China to acquire railway operations and maintenance skills.

The move will ensure locals are fully involved in the operations and maintenance of the Sh. 372 billion Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), expected to start commercial operations in June this year.

The Transport Cabinet Secretary (CS) James Macharia speaking while commissioning six locomotives disclosed at the Port of Mombasa that already 300 students are undergoing training at the Railway Training Institute on field training in the SGR project.

He said the SGR contractor, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) has also launched a railway technology transfer training facility in Voi town along the Mombasa-Nairobi highway to improve the capacity of its Kenyan employees.

We expect at the end of this year, a further 500 students will have completed training in middle level skills related to driving of trains, maintaining infrastructure, locomotives and rolling stock and traffic operations, said Dr. Macharia, adding that will go along away in reducing the need for external experts to run the SGR.

He noted that the trainings will continue to cover all the estimated 2,000 staff required for the operations and maintenance of SGR in the short and medium term.

These are in addition to 25 students currently on a four year undergraduate training at Beijing Jiaotong University, he said adding that another 75 trainees are expected to join the China programme in 2017 and 2018.

The CS says the conducive environment created by the SGR will attract investors from all over the world seeking to take advantage of low cost of production, cheap transportation and a captive regional market.

He appealed to the county governments along the SGR line to undertake proper planning around the areas adjacent to the new rail stations in order to make it easy for investors to make use of the modern rail.

The SGR will witness more industrial parks and special economic zones being developed along the entire Mombasa-Nairobi SGR corridor and the creation of jobs in the counties, he said.

The passenger trains using the SGR will cruise at speeds of 120 kilometres per hour while freight trains will run for 80 kilometres per hour.

This will shorten the time taken between Mombasa and Nairobi to about four hours for passengers and eight hours for cargo, said Dr Macharia.