Many firms in Kenya have had to realign their work procedures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Most companies have taken measures such as laying-off staff, salary reduction and shutting down altogether.
At the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), Africa Star Railway Operation Company (Afristar), the firm that has been contracted to run and maintain the railway has been managed to maintain all its over 2000 workforce intact.
In order to reduce the chances of staff contracting coronavirus, the management, so as to adhere to the ministry of health directive on tackling the virus, asked staff to take leave.
Only a small percentage of staff in key departments remained.
One such department is the Rolling Stock Maintenance Workshop, which deals inspection, repairs and maintenance of passenger coaches and freight wagons.
According to Lawrence Murithi, deputy superintendent, of that department at Afristar, they have successfully made workplace adjustments to provide seamless railway services that meet the demand for cargo in Kenya and the region during the Covid-19 pandemic period.
All passenger trains have been grounded due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, freight services are ongoing. This is why Murithi’s department comes in.
The department does maintenance of the whole trains after every 300,000 kilometers or once a year. Currently, they are single-vehicle brake system checks. That entails cleaning, performing tests, repair and replacements where necessary, for the freight wagons at the depot.
“We are also engaged in disassembly and assembly of essential parts of the bogie system, such as the longitudinal traction rod and the brake lever”, Murithi said.
Murithi indicates that since some members are on leave, the work load on the remaining members of his and by extension other departments such as Signal and Communication and Track has increased. However, to cut on the stress of coming and going to work, and the fear of contracting the virus, the management has provided accommodation at work premises as well as quality meals.
A look at the Rolling Stock Maintenance Workshop shows that Kenyans are slowly taking over the management of the departments.
Skills transfer has been supported at SGR and over 80 per cent transition from expatriates to Kenya has already been reached, making it within the 10-year goal to transfer its entire operations to Kenyans.
For self-sustenance and continuity, transferring the entire SGR operations to Kenyans, Afristar embarked on aggressive training of its local staff. Most are sent abroad to gain more technical skills.
To date, China Road & Bridge Corporation (CRBC), the majority stake owner of Afristar, has sent over 100 fully sponsored Kenyan students to Beijing Jiaotong University to study communication engineering, rail transit signal and control, railway engineering and engineering management.
Kenya lacks academic institutions that offer full training in railway matters. However, plans to introduce a building for the railway major at the University of Nairobi (UoN) and to upgrade vocational training at the Railway Training Institute (RTI), will ensure Kenya has a steady supply of skilled manpower from the grassroots to management level. Government of Kenya supports this initiative with a Sh2 billion offer, for construction of a new railway school and refurbishment of the RTI.
Quality infrastructure remains at the heart of the country’s economic growth as it enables trade, connects people and builds social cohesion. It is also instrumental in fostering regional integration and supporting growth across the continent.
Currently, Afristar has continuously provided technical skills transfer opportunities through daily training, practical operation training and flexible online training and examination.
In the ongoing operations at the Rolling Stock Maintenance Workshop, there has never been a single accident or injury during maintainance.
Indeed, Afristar has managed to stay clear off the coronavirus scourge through some of their operations are in the ports, close to where the covid-19 has infected members of other government agencies they interact with.
In the corporate culture, the closeness between the staff has meant that many have gained knowledge from each other.
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