Nairobi residents who ply Mombasa Road are set to enjoy an improved and faster commuting experience after President Kibaki commissions the new Sh200 million Syokimau railway line and station on Tuesday.
The line is expected to offer commuters an alternative mode of transport away from traffic jams along the road, which takes hours to navigate but is heavy on the fuel bill.
“We are offering people an option to get to town in the shortest time possible. If you factor in the conservative estimates of Sh140 and Sh500 spent on daily parking fees and fuel respectively, the train option is also cost-effective,” said Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) managing director Nduva Muli.
Commuters will be charged Sh100 one way for the 18-kilometre journey which is expected to take about 30 minutes. The same section takes up to two hours to navigate by road because of traffic jams.
Conceived as a “park and ride” model, motorists would part with a daily fee of Sh100 to park their vehicles in one of the 3,000 spaces available at the station, board a train to town and collect the vehicle later after making the return trip.
Six refurbished trains are scheduled for the five round trips a day. KRC estimates that the locomotives would transport approximately 20,000 passengers a day.
The first of five trips from Syokimau is scheduled for 7:05am with the last one into town being at 6:35 in the evening.
For passengers heading the opposite direction, the first of five trains would leave the Railway Station ramp at 8:10 in the morning while the last one for the day would head out at 8:45pm.
There would also be daily late morning, afternoon and early evening trains heading in either direction.
There will be season tickets limited to specific periods and sold at discounts as well as ‘combo’ tickets for customers taking up parking, train travel and other services.
All tickets will be issued through the automated ticketing system to curb free riding and revenue losses.
“Railway firms around the world that have not adopted automated ticketing systems are estimated to lose about 30 per cent of their revenues per year,” added Mr Muli.
KRC is in talks with selected Public Service Vehicle (PSVs) operators to provide “Rail Connect Services.” This would see selected PSVs time their schedules to be at the station when a train arrives, to take alighting passengers to their next destination.
Passengers from Syokimau area, Mlolongo, Athi-River and Kitengela would be transported to the station while those at Railways station would be shuttled onward to their work areas like Upperhill, Westlands and Hurlingham.
The new train passenger service will be operated by Rift Valley Railway (RVR) in a newly-signed two year deal that is different from the existing passenger concession.
“The operating agreement will run for two years beginning today and will see RVR manage all operations including maintenance of the locomotives,” revealed Mr Muli.
RVR’s initial five year concession to run passenger trains beginning November 2006 ended in June this year but was then extended by a further one year. The deal is set to expire in June 2013.
KRC has contracted audit firm Deloitte to advise whether to extend the passenger rail service concession with incumbent RVR or award it to a third party.
Syokimau station is part of a larger Sh24 billion ($300 million) project envisioned to interlink all the key sections of Nairobi with a railway network converging at the city’s central business district (CBD). It was built by El-Noor General Contractors built the station.
Apart from the Syokimau Station, the master plan envisages three other new railway stations in Jogoo Road’s Makadara estate, Mombasa Road’s Imara Daima whose construction is ongoing and on Nairobi’s Moi Avenue.
The passenger rail is aimed at eliminating traffic jams which have become common in the city.
“The construction of this line is a start in what should eventually be a shift from road to railway transport by Nairobi residents,” said Amos Kimunya, the transport minister said in a recent interview with Business Daily.
These new developments come after years of neglect in investment in railway transport that dates back to the 1940’s - a scenario that has preserved the more expensive roads as a key inland transport choice.
The Kenya – Uganda Railway was built by the Imperial British East Africa company in the 1890s and construction started, arriving at Nairobi in the 1900’s and in Kisumu (Port Florence) in 1901.
The railway was later expanded to Eldoret and Kampala which allowed traders and commuters reduce their dependence on Lake Victoria as a transport channel.