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History made as train engines roar to life in Mombasa

By Nzau Musau | Published Thu, January 12th 2017 at 00:00, Updated January 12th 2017 at 18:33 GMT +3
Guests and members of the public mill around the six Standard Guage Railway (SGR) line locomotive engines after Transport Cabinet Secretary received them from the China government at the port of Mombasa, January 11, 2017. The other locomotive engines will arrive in the country mid-February. [PHOTO BY GIDEON MAUNDU/STANDARD].

At exactly five minutes to noon in Port Reitz, Mombasa, yesterday, six of the 56 locomotives that will bestride the Standard Gauge Railway roared to life.

The co-joined six-two shunting diesel electric locomotives - four of them freight cars - were pulled off the new SGR marshalling yard in Port Reitz by Transport and Infrastructure Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and other top State officials.

A group of Giriama dancers raced alongside, applauding, dancing and singing. And Kayamba Africa belted out their signature tunes, the most relevant one for the occasion being 'Amazing Grace' - "...I was once blind but now I see..."

In the driver's seat was a China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) locomotive driver.

And behind him to enjoy the historic ride were Mr Macharia, Kenya Railways chairman Jeremiah Kianga, Infrastructure Principal Secretary Irungu Nyakera, Charge de Affairs at the Chinese embassy Yao Ming, Kenya Railways Chief Executive Atanus Maina, CRBC Deputy General Manager Li Qiang, Project Co-ordinator Johnson Matu and Coast Regional Co-ordinator Nelson Marwa.

Cabinet Secretary for Transport Dr. James Macharia (right) with the managing director the Kenya Railways Corperation Atanas Maina (second right) Coast Regional Co-ordinator Nelson Marwa (left) and Principal Secretary for Transport Nyakera Irungu (second left) as they walk infront of the six Standard Guage Railway (SGR) line locomotive engines soon after receiving them from the government of China at the port of Mombasa, January 11, 2017. The other locomotive engines will arrive in the country mid-February. [PHOTO BY GIDEON MAUNDU/STANDARD].

For the first few minutes and under strict supervision of the engineers, the CS and his team fidgeted with the engine - twitching the levers, knobs, screens and buttons on its dashboard before the beast hooted and journalists angling for a perfect shot were yanked off the track.

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The machine is a contradiction of terms. On the outside it cuts the image of the engines that blazed our meter gauge rail in the 1900s. But inside, it is a blend of the past and the present - modern AC system, a Central Circuit Television system, manual side mirrors and button telephone head-sets.


Behind the driver's and co-driver's seats are two other seats in the locomotive, two fire extinguishers, a coffee maker and a communication screen. The machines, we are told, are brand new. The polythene wrappings have not yet been peeled off the seats.

The front of the locomotives resembles the 'Lunatic Express', the mythical "third eye" in the middle and the two windscreens side by side. The deep red and yellow colours are Jubilee - the administration that braved spirited opposition to build in three years what British colonialists took six years to complete.

Macharia could not wait to enter the locomotive. As soon as he finished reading his speech, he shuffled the papers and declared: "These speeches are just that; speeches! Let us now see the real thing!"

Before that, Virginia Munyao, a dazzling CBRC maid handed over gold-plated scissors to the CS and other dignitaries to cut the ribbons. Immediately thereafter, he was handed a miniature locomotive and a key to the "real thing". He then made a beeline for the doors to undertake the historic duty of igniting the machine.

Before that, clerics - Sheikh Khalifa, Fr Okello and Bishop Tuimising - prayed for the safety of passengers and CRBC officials as they tested the line. The prayers were not without context, as centuries ago the engineers' forbears were mercilessly devoured by man-eater lions.

"As you rescued the disciples from turbulent waters, as you protected the disciples on their way to Emmaus, Lord bless us and protect us as we use these trains. We pray that you will never be far from us as we ride in them," Fr Okello petitioned.

Mr Matu certified the locomotives as "beyond satisfaction". And the Kenya Railways boss declared that Kenyans had received value for their money. Yao Ming said the locomotives reminded him of his first encounter with them in his days of youth in "a poor and backward village in China".

The first passenger train will be flagged off at the same venue on Madaraka Day eve.