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Train arrives in Nairobi amid pomp and colour

By Peter Muiruri | June 1st 2017

President Uhuru Kenyatta flags off a cargo train during the SGR launch at Mombasa Port on May 30. Photo: Boniface Okendo 

At exactly 11am Wednesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta boarded the standard gauge railway train for the inaugural trip to Nairobi. Eight hours and 20 minutes later, he disembarked at the Nairobi terminus.

Completion of the first phase of the project culminated in the symbolic ride, and the Head of State hopes the railway will be a game changer in the country's economic front.

Donning a white, African print shirt with the national colours boldly displayed, Uhuru could not hide his joy as the initial part of the project he hopes will define his legacy came to fruition.

The fact that the first phase was delivered 18 months ahead of schedule gave the President something to smile about.

The launch of the passenger train is meant to complement other forms of transportation. The President said the fares on the new train must be affordable to citizens.

First Class

"The fares to Mombasa from Nairobi and vice versa must not exceed Sh700," he said as the crowd cheered.

Those in First Class will pay Sh3,000 for the express service between the two cities.

The announcement was good news to Siamantet ole Parate, a herdsman from Mashuru in Kajiado County.

For close to six decades, Parate has used the train built by the British 122 years ago to Mombasa.

Though he has fond memories of that train, all he wanted was to be part of history by riding on the SGR train that traverses a good portion of his county.

More exciting for him and his family members was the fact that he was riding in the same train as the President.

"Hii mpya itafanya safari kutoka Nairobi kuenda Mombasa kuwa fupi sana. Hakuna kuchelewa. Tena unaona iko smart sana. (The new train service will improve transportation between Nairobi and Mombasa. There will be no delays. The train is also smart)," he said.

Mr Parate and his fellow passengers were treated to sumptuous meals by a team of stewards. They also collected gift packs that many said would be constant reminders of the ride.

Inside the train, too, was a medical team that ensured that all on board got to the city in good health.

Diana Bii, 56, from Kericho had travelled to Mombasa by bus the previous day in a journey he termed as most tiring.

"This thing [the train] is good. It should have come earlier," she said.

Such were the sentiments of many of those who rode on the train including schoolchildren drawn from all 47 counties as well as government officials.

One of those who were elated was Kitili Mbathi, director-general of the Kenya Wildlife Service. Noting that a large portion of the new railway would pass through wildlife conservation areas, he had only one wish, that the line promotes tourism in the country.

"I can't wait to see how the train revolutionaries the country's tourism sector," he said.

According to Monica Solanki, a tour operator from Mombasa, the new service will change the way tourism programming is done. She said it will now be possible to book guests on the train and have a driver from a lodge along the line collect the guests from any of the two main and seven intermediate stations.

The train made stop-overs at Mariakani, Voi, Mtito-Andei, Emali, Athi-River and Nairobi where President Kenyatta addressed excited Kenyans.

President Kenyatta, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta and deputy President William Ruto each made surprise visits to greet and chat with pupils. The pupils took selfies with them.

Wednesday, Uhuru continued with his enumeration of the economic benefits of the new line stating that such projects are what the country needs to bridge the industrialisation gap.

On Tuesday, he had told off critics of the line who insinuated that the SGR and related infrastructure were meant to relocate the Mombasa Port to Naivasha.

Celebrate success

"Imagine that some people think that we are going to transport this port you see here to Naivasha. Why then did we invest Sh60 billion for this port's expansion?' he posed.

"Whatever your political beliefs are, join us in celebrating this success together," he added.

However, the controversy that has been associated with the SGR project followed the President. Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho had an altercation with security personnel Wednesday when was denied entry to the launch ceremony at the Mombasa West Terminus.

Mr Joho said some critics had queried the importance of the railway line.

In all the seven stops he made along the route, the President urged Kenyans to look at the bigger picture and avoid sideshows.

"Every one of us should feel proud to be Kenyan. We have launched the Madaraka Express to reshape the story of Kenya for the next 100 years," Uhuru said.

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