For decades, since its map mysteriously went missing at Nanyuki in 1931 (as the tale goes), the iconic Nairobi~Nanyuki Meter Gauge Railway was a key driver of Mt Kenya region’s socio~economic boom.
The signature diesel engines gracefully snaked in and out of Murang’ a Kirinyaga, Nyeri and Laikipia Counties, effectively giving life to the multibillion coffee and tea sectors, Kenya’s export captains of yesteryears.
But all this grid came to a sudden halt in the late 1980s when the last engine went silent, dealing a major blow to the largely agricultural part of Kenya.
Luckily, four decades later, under President Uhuru’s presidency, a ray of hope is on the horizon.
Last month, June 2020, a wave of excitement engulfed the region as elated locals watched a wagon carrying ballast roar all the way from Nanyuki, Laikipia County to Maragua, Murang’ a County.
To the born 80s, 90s and millennials, it was a magical moment as they watched the railway lines they grew up seeing as mere pieces of abandoned metal, get a new definition.
And to the older generation, who saw the earlier train of the 70s, it was a nostalgic moment of reminiscence of the good old days, re~writing of a story and a renewed hope of a better tomorrow.
When it finally gets operational, the line which American author Charles Miller christened the ‘Lunatic Express’ in his 1971 book ‘The Lunatic Express: An Entertainment in Imperialism,’ will be the perfect embodiment of President Uhuru Kenyatta 2020 Madaraka Day address theme of ‘Re~imagining Kenya.’
The railway will no doubt be a socioeconomic game-changer.
Indeed, as comforted by the teachings of our Founding Fathers, when our dreams hit rock-bottom, we should not abandon them but re-imagine them, instead.
‘Rock-bottom’ is actually a foundation you can build on.
The late Dr Gakuru was among architects of Vision 2030 framework (2008) whose overarching thrust was to accelerate Kenya’s economic growth to achieve middle-income industrialized status by the year 2030.
The gusto and excitement late Gakuru had injected in championing the project when he was elected Nyeri governor in August 2017 were impressive, only he died before he could see what has become of the sleeping giant.
Besides injecting new life into the agricultural and livestock economies of the Central and Upper Eastern regions by ferrying farm inputs and manufactured products inland, it is also expected to ease transport of livestock and farm produce, iron ore from Laikipia to steel manufacturing plants in Nairobi.
The hopes for the Jubilee government injecting a new economic stimulation into the region were triggered by a meeting of seven governors from the central region who attended the inaugural brainstorming conference held in Nanyuki in October 2017 hosted by Laikipia governor, Mr Nderitu Muriithi.
Laikipia, Isiolo, Meru and Tharaka-Nithi have large amounts of iron ore and other industrial mineral deposits. This is the time to move to commercial exploitation these minerals as a basis of achieving the manufacturing pillar of the Big Four Agenda.
A revived Nanyuki line is crucial for the early development of that mining. This is so because key markets within the central region for the nascent iron ore mining are in Kiambu and Nakuru.
Obviously part of the rehabilitation of this line includes providing the necessary working spaces for traders. A new station is expected at Chaka.