Railway Transport in Kenya:The past and the Future

One of the items in my 2017 bucket list is to travel from Nairobi to Mombasa and back using the good old Uganda Railway.However, I remember my mother telling me funny stories of how a trip from Nairobi on her way to school in Nyanza was always filled drama. See, back then Kenya Railways was vibrant, functional and had a regular schedule. There were no bus companies like Mash,Modern Coast,Easy Coach e.t.c. Comfort and travel could never at one point be used in the same sentence.

She told me of how Lunjes and Jang’os traveling up country from Nairobi and vice versa were an interesting lot. They always transported beds, utensils,mattresses,chicken,sacks of maize and beans, millet,cassava and sweet potatoes. Each of them insisted on guarding their luggage hence hogging the little space that was meant to be shared. If you were lucky, they sometimes would allow you to carry their chicken in exchange of space.

They were also the same people who bought anything edible that was peddled by hawkers on each stop along the way. These were mainly ‘sim sim'(Sesame’s seed sweets),groundnuts, bananas, mandazi and roasted maize. As evening crawled in,oxygen became the rarest and most precious gas. Opening the windows was prohibited because of the biting night cold.Accessing the ‘washroom’ which was mostly a hole in the rare end of the train,was impossible considering the luggage and sleeping passengers. By the time everyone got to their destinations, the fatigue, constipation and mental exhaustion was unavoidable.

I derive thrill from such things and so I just wanted to try it out and see if it is any different now.

‘Sadly’ I might not get to experience that cheap thrill.

A lot has changed since that time. There has been the development of a faster and effective transport system, better roads and urbanization slowly changed the narrative as well and rail transport  became less popular. This led to negligence and irregular schedule. Such factors slowly but surely guaranteed a shift from the meter gauge railway.

Fast forward to the year 2017, a bigger and better railway system is about to be unveiled.

Despite the political controversy surrounding its development, I must say that the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR has put Kenya in the map in matters Railway transport compared to the previous Meter gauge railway.

Phase one of the project starts from Mombasa and ends in Nairobi.

The Mombasa station of the meter gauge railway. Image source:internet
Mombasa Terminus of the SGR project.
The Nairobi Railway Station of the Uganda Railway.                                                                                                                     Source:Internet
The new Nairobi Terminus.

The railway has eight intermediate stations. Intermediate stations are like ‘bus stops or stages’ these are stations along the railways that are not the main stations like Mombasa and Nairobi.

Each of the intermediate stations has a unique design. Informed by either the culture of the people in the areas they are located or the first letter of the name of the area.

Voi Intermediate Station. Designed inspired by the letter V.

 

Mtito Andei Intermediate Station, Design as letter M.

 

Kibwezi Intermediate Station inspired by the makuti roof thatching used by communities around the place.

The intermediate stations have a ticket area, baggage area, waiting bay,VIP area, facilities for people with disabilities, car parking area, and a freight yard.

Ticketing area.

Freight yard in the background.

Then, there are twenty three passing stations. These are basically the railway control area. The passing stations has four railways that eventually joins up to become one. (loop lines). They are used to control train movement on the railway, prevent collisions and basically give express trains priority in the event that two trains are going in opposite direction.

One of the twenty three passing stations.(control centers.)

There will be express passenger trains that only make short mandatory stops in the intermediate stations.

There are a number of super bridges along the railway with the Tsavo super bridge being the tallest. It is located at Tsavo East National Park.

Tsavo super bridge.
Mazeras super bridge.
Voi super bridge.

The SGR railway is fenced all the way from Mombasa to Nairobi. This is done for security purposes.Culverts have been constructed in specific areas to allow people,vehicles, animals and rivers to pass through to the other side.

Trials are still in course but word on the ground have it that it might take anywhere between four to six hours to get to Nairobi from Mombasa and vice versa. However, this is to be confirmed.

Some test trains on track.

The Mombasa-Nairobi SGR is to to be officially launched in June 2017.

Maybe just until then will I be able to check that item off my bucket list. This time only without drama. Maybe.

 

26 thoughts on “Railway Transport in Kenya:The past and the Future

  1. Reply
    Kevin - April 2, 2017

    Nice piece!

    1. Reply
      Bonita - April 2, 2017

      Thanks Kevin!

      1. Reply
        kennnedy - April 4, 2017

        good work

  2. Reply
    Marina - April 2, 2017

    Thanks for the post! I’ll be traveling to Kenia in May and backpacking around during weekends while working for the summer!
    This post def help me a lot! I’ll have a better look at your blog and read every single post about Kenya!

    1. Reply
      Bonita - April 2, 2017

      Hey Marina, Karibu Kenya. You will definitely enjoy it here! let me know if you need help in getting around. I know a few good places here and there.

  3. Reply
    Myra - April 3, 2017

    Wow ?

  4. Reply
    Meg - April 5, 2017

    Interesting to see. Progress is funny. It’s definitely a good thing in many ways, but it takes some of the spice out of life! I’ve been dying to visit Kenya/Tanzania/Uganda/Rwanda!

  5. Reply
    Adrenaline Romance - April 6, 2017

    The modern railways look really futuristic. It’s almost like science fiction, but it’s real! We would definitely want to try out riding those trains; our only train experience is the LRT and MRT in Manila!

  6. Reply
    steph - April 8, 2017

    This is so timely for be as I will be in Nairobi this summer! Wow I can’t believe these railway stations are beautiful! Unfortunately I wont have enough time to take a train while I am there, but next time for sure; it is great to know there have been some serious infrastructure investments 🙂 I bet is is helping with tourism and business

  7. Reply
    Christina - April 8, 2017

    The train from the old days doesn’t sound like the European trains we experienced thats for sure. This would be an interesting experience. I can only imagine the sights one would see on that long journey.

  8. Reply
    Sheri - April 9, 2017

    Lots of changes happening. I always see a great post showing Africa in a positive light and all the new things as well as old cultural things the continent and countries has to offer. Not the negative from the media. Wonderful post!

  9. Reply
    Anna - April 10, 2017

    I love the description you used in the beginning – getting a seat in exchange of holding a chicken in your lap. Sounds like my kind of adventure!

  10. Reply
    Marky - April 12, 2017

    Lovely to know Kenya’s railway system is now up to par with modern technology and even more advanced than many countries. 🙂

  11. Reply
    Paroma - April 27, 2017

    Thanks for the detailed blog post on transportation. Hopefully you will have a smooth ride the next time you visit!

  12. Reply
    Melai - April 27, 2017

    I can’t believe how convenient it actually is to travel around Kenya, Uganda, etc. Traveling by train between countries is so much easier and fun. We only have city trains and they are no way near the modernized trains in SA.

  13. Reply
    Liz - April 27, 2017

    This is a very interesting article. I haven’t been to Africa yet so there are a lot of new things in this article to learn. It’s interesting to read how the railway system works there and about their plans in the future!

  14. Reply
    Flo - April 27, 2017

    Wow – the new terminals look incredible! It will be amazing to try out the new system when it opens – let us know how it goes!

  15. Reply
    Danielle - April 27, 2017

    Awesome to know how easy it would be to get around in Kenya. The new terminals look amazing. Hope you have a great trip!

  16. Reply
    Sapna - April 27, 2017

    You had described past very well, it was a tough job to travel in old days. Really happy to see new swanky railway stations and changes. Good post with interesting information.

  17. Reply
    sherianne - April 27, 2017

    Your mom’s experience is long gone for sure! What a difference a few years can make

  18. Reply
    Ian Sta Maria - April 27, 2017

    Oh wow! Their railway system and terminal looks even better than in our country! Great way to experience Kenya! 🙂 hope you had a lot of fun!

  19. Reply
    Kim | thosewhowandr.com - April 28, 2017

    Maybe. Hahah, it’s crazy how things have changed. The new railway system looks so advanced, hope to use it one day.

  20. Reply
    Samanth - April 28, 2017

    I absolutely love the photos showing the difference between the old terminals and new ones. This whole post was fascinating actually. I know very little about Africa so I’m always intrigued to find out about it. Thanks for giving me an insight into the transportation system.

  21. Reply
    Sam - April 28, 2017

    This is a really useful article, and i definitely have it bookmarked for when I start planning my long term train journey through the continent (which WILL happen, it WILL) XD

  22. Reply
    Lydia - May 10, 2017

    Keep it up girl

  23. Reply

    Great photos! I can’t wait to go on the SGR to Mombasa! But, for all its many MANY faults, I loved the old train service and wrote about it extensively on my blog…
    … Have you travelled the Lunatic Express? http://muzungubloguganda.com/2016/05/lunatic-express-train-nairobi-to-mombasa/
    – No. of KM journey: 530
    – No. of Kenyan shillings for 2nd class ticket: 3,385 (USD 33)
    – No. of hours delay leaving Nairobi Railway Station: 10
    – No. of hours on train journey (forecast): 13
    – No. of hours on train journey (actual): 23
    – No. of degrees Celsius on the train: 40+
    – No. of beers consumed: not enough
    – No. of National Parks traversed for free: 2
    – No. of elephants seen on Tsavo safari: 3

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