On safety, public transporters can take a cue from Madaraka Express

Six years after the passenger transport service on the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) was launched, it has established and sustained an enviable operational safety record.

The regulator, Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) and the operator Africa Star Railways Operations Company (Afristar) have, through the Madaraka Express, shown that a scheduled, efficient and safe passenger transport service can be achieved in Kenya.

This is as they continue to implement the SGR's Operations and Maintenance Agreement.

The Madaraka Express runs a daily frequency of six trips with three from Nairobi to Mombasa and another three on the reverse route. As of May 31, 2023, the operations team had achieved 2,192 days of safe SGR operations.

The SGR passenger transport service has not had a single accident for the last six years that it has been in operation.

How has the operations team been able to achieve this feat, especially in a context where there was no template service to benchmark within Kenya and even the region? The first success factor has been the deliberate deployment of science.

Every aspect of operational safety on the Madaraka Express is data and evidence-based.

This allows for active learning from past performance and a constant quest for improvement. Equally important is the use of modern technology in inspection. An efficient operational safety function is as good as the people manning it.

Competent team

To ensure always-on compliance with the trains' safety features, the operations team has set up a special department of railway safety specialists responsible for supervision and inspection.

The operator has also assembled a competent team with experience and excellent leadership skills to deliver the best outcome for passengers. A key pillar of the Madaraka Express' operational safety play is regular inspection, which is largely carried out through the use of technology.

This is augmented with regular supervision, risk control and monitoring. Critical in the execution of these processes is the fact that no aspect of safety is overlooked, including that of passenger and freight trains on transit, occupational safety, as well as safety of communities and wildlife along the SGR track. Critical to the achievement of safety is the understanding, goodwill and active support from the key stakeholders; SGR trains' crew, the passengers and the public.

The operator has inculcated among its staff a safety culture through regular evaluation of employee adherence to safety regulations and procedures, performance appraisals and bonuses and promotions based on performance against key deliverables.

For instance, locomotive drivers have to adhere to set speed limits on the service. Quarterly and annual rewarding of safety champions help to incentivise performance. A critical component of the SGR operations safety team is the train dispatchers.

They are responsible for managing track use, route and train control, issuing commands, traffic flow control, conflict resolution and time graph monitoring.

The anchor in the SGR's exemplary operational safety record has been the good relationship it has maintained with the public.

The writer is a communication and brand specialist