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How Madaraka Express train enhances our national image

Madaraka Express train enhances our national image

There has been a lot of excitement between Nairobi and Mombasa cities since the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) was officially launched on May 31.

Perhaps, this excitement surpasses the one that greeted the first railway in Kenya from 1896 to 1901, under the British Protectorate (1895-1919). At that time, only European explorers, missionaries, settler-farmers, pockets of emerging business community and Government operatives understood the import of the railway.

Certainly, Africans, unlike Indians and Arabs in the coastal belt, were not economically active, nor had they enjoyed the full benefits of Western education. When President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the new SGR services, little did he know that a rebirth of sorts had occurred with regard to transport services, as buses cried foul after experiencing a decrease in their customers.

Undoubtedly, the bus conductors were disappointed due to the low fares SGR’s Economy Class passengers pay.

Second, the fact that the Madara Express train takes about 4 hours and 30 minutes for the entire journey of 484km, while buses take 10 hours, makes any traveler to go for rush the SGR. Third, the fact that police officers with sniffer dogs screen commuters thoroughly, makes them feel secure than when they are riding on the ‘insecure’ buses.

As the armed police officers patrol the over dozen coaches to guarantee security during the 5-hour trip, one is bound to feel safe.

Fourth, with the potholed road network, the commuters would find the SGR a smoother ride; and particularly, the bumpy un-tarmac-ked sections where buses are forced to divert in order to pave way for the ever ongoing road maintenance. Fifth, SGR provides drinks, foods, and snacks that creates an at-home atmosphere, with washrooms and other facilities spicing up the trip.

As one travels from either Mombasa or Nairobi on the SGR, this classic sleeper train takes in the sights of the savanna from the window. It provides one with a true vintage experience, including viewing the animals in the Tsavo National Park. Nevertheless, this does not mean that all is well.

Travelling in the business class where one pays Sh3,000 promises heaven. Apart from a slightly bigger space for a commuter, nothing else can be cited to justify the huge payment gap. My take is that a middle class coach ought to be introduced within the SGR.

In comparing the SGR with the South African Blue Train, the latter has been described as “the five-star hotel on wheels.” This is due to its marble-and-gold-studded suites; and its expertly prepared meals, and even butler service. This train is sadly very costly with fares as high as $1,400 (About Sh140,000) during the low season (mid November-September).

To this end, SGR is indeed a great idea, a starting point. As Kenya prepares to take SGR from Mombasa to Malaba, a distance of 930km, or from Mombasa to Moyale – 1,040km, it will further boost the national image, and indeed, increase our individual joys as a people.

- The writer is a senior lecturer at the Kenyatta University