A century ago just over 4000 railway workers died building what became known as the ‘lunatic line’, nicknamed as such because it ended in the middle of nowhere and therefore anyone riding it was a lunatic! 100 of those people died because they were killed by lions, a terrible tally of death, 4 people losing their lives for every mile of track built. That first cross-country railroad that ended in the middle of nowhere gave birth to what is now Nairobi, a vibrant bustling city that has become the financial heart of East Africa.
I love the time I spend in Nairobi the vibrancy and the colours, the spices and fabric in the market, and the prices in Nakumatt that are so much cheaper than the UK. What really blows my mind though is that I can stand on the top of the apartment block and look out over a national park just a couple of miles away.
You haven’t lived until you have parked your car…doors open in case something that bites comes along and looked out over the grassland and seen the zebra and giraffes, if you’re lucky a rhino as well, against a backdrop of skyscrapers. I have to add I then have a massive hunt through the car fearful that a snake has gotten into there because personally I would prefer the biting creatures than the smallest of snakes…except Kenya specialises is the most massive snakes and I hate them….but I digress, back to railways.
There is another one going in and it’s butt ugly and is cutting right through the middle of the National Park. Oh I know it will get some haulage trucks and containers off the road, which would be great because driving to Mombasa is a total ball ache and takes bloody hours, but would it not have been more sensible to save the huge amount of money being spent on the railway to improve the road?
Now, as an outsider it seems logical to me that if you put a railway through the middle of a national park you are going to get contact with a large number of wild animals…although many tourists to Nairobi really do deserve to be eaten by lions because they are crass, rude and stupid it wouldn’t do the tourist industry much good and Kenya has suffered enough with the tourists staying away. They really don’t know what they’re missing I have to add.
Building this railway is costing billions of KSH mainly due to the super-deluxe track laying equipment which are blood-curdlingly expensive. The loans the government has taken to pay for it will take years to pay back and I really truly hope that it pays off. It’s a bold move and I hope it’s not in vain.
The line from Nairobi to Mombasa is almost complete, but the next bit of it cuts right through the National Park, an area that is outstandingly beautiful and home to Rhinos, lions, giraffes, buffaloes, various antelope species and of course snakes…bloody great big python things that give you nightmares…did I mention I hate snakes? I would never kill one…I would be too busy having a heart attack because it was near me. If anyone can actually tell me other than eating rats what snakes are good for I would be grateful.
The Park is getting squeezed as Nairobi expands outwards, and I get this, people need housing and people need jobs but how many more office blocks does one city need? Nairobi is the only city in the entire world to have a National park within it’s boundary, that’s quite something and it would be a great shame to lose that.
Of course I speak as a mwanamke wa Uingereza which I hope means British woman (I have a lot to learn as far as Kiswali goes) that has been fortunate enough to spend time in this wonderful country…something that if the Kenyan government are kind to us will continue with the re-issuing of work permits.
Speaking to the BBC Anthony Childs, who runs a tourist lodge on the edge of Nairobi National Park said:
“For this bit of incursion into the park we were not consulted at all – it was done without asking us,” he says.
“What is shocking is how much they have destroyed the land underneath, all of this being national park, and this is our worry for the track that goes across the middle.”
He would like to see the track go around the south of the park, and there are less-favoured alternative routes.
“This park was a pristine piece of land in the beginning,” says Mr Childs.
“First of all there was a pipeline across it, then there were pylons, now there’s a railway along the side which now will go across. When will it stop?”
The Kenya Wildlife Service are also against the route but even petitioning the government has done no good.
“We will be working with the contractor to make sure the construction will be as least disruptive as possible and as environmentally friendly as possible. We believe that given the circumstance we have found ourselves in, this is the least obtrusive solution.” said Kitili Mbathi, Director of the KWS when talking about the raised bridge that is almost four miles long.
What Kenya does need is jobs, decent jobs paying decent wages so that there’s food on the table every night and that’s what I’m really hoping this railroad delivers because that at least would make it all worthwhile. A financial meltdown in a few years time when the loans need to be repaid would not make it worthwhile.
As usual the government, like all governments will do what they do regardless of the consequences for the citizens and animals alike.
Sadly, that’s the way it is the world over. I suppose one option is to take them all out to look at the raised bridge and leave them there hoping that Simba and his mates are hungry…now there’s a thought.
Photo credit: Nairobi Railway Museum