At exactly 10:30am on Sunday, Anastasia Mwihaki boarded the train ready to set off from Nanyuki to Nairobi.
After more than 20 years since she last travelled on a train, Ms Mwihaki was among 500 passengers who boarded the Nanyuki-Nairobi train at the Nanyuki railway station.
The train was flagged off on time and the crew started issuing tickets to passengers.
“The last time I boarded a train was in the 1990s. We would travel on the Nanyuki- Nyeri-Sagana route to sell farm produce. It feels good to travel by train again,” said Mwihaki
Kenya Railways Corporation resumed operations on December 11 starting off with a return trip from Nairobi to Nanyuki to assess passenger frequency on the route.
“Travelling on a train is cheap and convenient. The corporation should introduce more commercial and commuters’ trips to Mount Kenya region,” said Mwihaki.
From Nanyuki to Nairobi she paid Sh200 and her luggage was ferried for free.
Mwihaki said she incurs high transport costs to ferry cargo from the farm to Nairobi using vehicles.
Next to Mwihaki was Charity Gathoni who paid Sh20 to travel to Narumoru.
It took her 45 minutes to get to the town where she sells second hand clothes.
“I usually pay Sh100 from Nanyuki to Narumoru every Sunday but not again. Revival of train operations is a major boost to businesses,” said Ms Gathoni.
Villagers who used the train before the service was suspended in 2005 recounted the heydays when the railway was a major mode of transport for the people, farm and industrial goods while children were thrilled by the roar of the train in the agriculture-rich region.
Most passengers were excited about was the smooth journey and comfort of the cabin.
Yvonne Michelle booked the First-Class couch with air-conditioned cubicles.
Her cubicle was fitted with a sink, a bed and a comfortable cream-coloured couch with orange detail.
She had travelled on Friday by the same train from Nairobi for a weekend getaway in Nanyuki in Laikipia County.
“The panoramic view is an unforgettable experience. It is a six-hour journey to Nairobi but I enjoyed the scenery,” she said.
At some point between Nanyuki and Karatina, Michelle among other passengers got a clear view of the majestic Mount Kenya on one side and the spectacular Aberdare Hills on the other side.
The expansive plantations and rivers crisscrossing the valleys of Mathira as the bogeys meandered the hills showed nature in its full form and beauty.
The Standard team boarded the train from Nanyuki to Sagana station in Kirinyaga and the scenic views made the three hour journey worthwhile.
Along the line, children, men and women came out to catch a glimpse of the train snake through the region.
Nahashon Diaz who runs a tourism company said he boarded the train from Nairobi to Nanyuki on Friday and returned on Sunday just to experience the route before he considers it as an alternative means of transport for clients.
“I took the trip for the sake of my clients and the train is economical. It also promotes tourism as people get to see new places,” he said.
Fatima Wanja travelled with her family to Thika for Christmas holiday. She said the train is convenient and cheap compared to matatus.
“It also reduces chances of accidents unlike travelling by road,” said Ms Wanja.
Kenya Railways Managing Director Phillip Mainga explained that weekly trips will help assess passenger frequency before they increase the frequency on the route.
“We are collaborating with county governments in northern tourism circuit to encourage tourists use the train,” said Mr Mainga.
Inter-terminus fare will cost between Sh50 and Sh100 serving Murang’a, Makuyu, Maragua, Sagana, Karatina, Kiganjo, Chaka, Naromoru and Nanyuki stations.
The Nairobi-Nanyuki route has attracted a lot of attention with Mainga saying they’re banking on tourism to generate revenue from passenger trains.
Laikipia deputy governor John Mwaniki said the return of the passenger train will promote the under-exploited tourism sector in the region.
“This revives the whole chain of tourism in the region. Expansion of the line to the Northern Kenya will also open up the region to business boom in domestic tourism,” said Mr Mwaniki.
Help revive industries
He noted that the return of train service will force the public service vehicles to offer competitive fares to passengers.
The train service is also expected to help revive industries that collapsed in Mount Kenya.
Rehabilitation of the decades-old 240-kilometer meter gauge railway line at a cost of Sh1.8 billion started in January to boost transport of cargo and passengers.
“Cargo trains have been operating since July with daily trips to ferry fuel. More commercial clients are coming on board,” said the managing director.
Mainga cited Bamburi Cement which has started transporting goods by train.
The corporation expects to generate more than Sh370.4 million per annum from cargo and passenger services.