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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.