By Magdalene Mukami
Kenya announced Sunday that the controversial Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) will start operations next June despite ongoing protests of its planned route through Nairobi National Park.
State House spokesperson Manoah Esipisu told reporters that the first leg of the construction of the railway line, running from capital Nairobi to the port city of Mombasa, is already 98 percent complete.
Esipisu said that after completion of the Nairobi-Mombasa section early next year, “Progress means that the date projected for the first passenger train to run on the SGR, 1 June 2017, is very much on schedule.”
Conservationists and residents from local tribes such as the Maasai have staged numerous protests to block construction of the controversial high-speed line – the largest single investment by Kenya’s government since independence in 1964 – through the national park.
Sylvia Loshan, one of the protestors who petitioned China not to proceed through the park, called for a reroute to protect the park and surrounding areas from “ever-invasive humans.”
“As if we don’t have enough endangered animals, our elephants, lions, and giraffes will die due to our pollution and recklessness. We should let them be, rerouting the railway line can’t be that hard,” she added.
Esipisu said that the 609-kilometer (378-mile) high-speed rail line has led to the direct employment of more than 40,000 youths, and dozens of thousands more engaged with sub-contractors and suppliers.
Plans call for the construction of 6 km of railway line through the 117-square km (45 square miles) Nairobi National Park, which also includes such native species as ostriches, leopards, gazelles, zebras, cheetahs, and hippos.