China East Africa Railway
Rwanda's president Paul Kagame (left), China's Li Keqiang, Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni and South Sudan's Salva KiirReuters

East African leaders have agreed a deal with China to construct a $3.8bn railway connecting Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan to replace a century-old British colonial rail track.

The first stage of the project will connect the Kenyan cities of Mombasa and Nairobi. It will be 90% funded by the Exim Bank of China. The rest of the money will come from the Kenyan government.

Construction of the first section is expected to take three and a half years before it is extended to Kampala (Uganda), Kigali (Rwanda), Bujumbura (Burundi) and Juba (South Sudan).

Passenger trains will be able to travel at a top speed of 120km/h (75mph) - significantly boosting transport efficiency and local economies.

"The costs of moving our people and our goods across our borders will fall sharply," Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta said.

The deal was signed in Nairobi by Chinese premier Li Keqiang, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Salva Kiir of South Sudan.

"This project demonstrates that there is equal cooperation and mutual benefit between China and east African countries and the railway is a very important part of transport infrastructure development," Li said.

Museveni criticised western governments after signing the deal and praised China for focusing on the development of east Africa.

"We are happy to see that China is concentrating on the real issues of development," Museveni said.

"They don't give lectures on how to run local governments and other issues I don't want to mention."