Passengers arriving from Mombasa on the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) train will alight at Syokimau and board the existing commuter train to central Nairobi, authorities said, setting travellers up for a last mile transfer that will complete the 500km journey.
Unlike the current railway line, which runs right into Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD), the SGR passenger train will terminate at Syokimau in Machakos County where the contractor is building the main station.
“Passengers will alight at the SGR platform, which is currently under construction. They will cross to the metre gauge rail platform and take another train to the city,” said Atanas Maina, the Kenya Railways managing director.
Passenger trains on SGR will run at 120 kilometres per hour, cutting by more than half the journey that currently takes 10 hours.
Buses take an average eight hours to complete the 480 kilometre journey – meaning those taking the train from Mombasa will arrive in Nairobi hours before the bus travellers.
The commuter rail service between Syokimau and the CBD is operated by Rift Valley Railways (RVR) on behalf of Kenya Railways. RVR is paid a commission of Sh5 million every three months for the service.
Mr Maina said Kenya Railways planned to refurbish two engines and coaches for use between Syokimau and the CBD in readiness for the increase in passenger numbers once the SGR line starts operating mid next year.
Each of the eight trains that will run on the SGR between Nairobi and Mombasa will have a capacity of 1,000 passengers.
That is in turn expected to increase passenger numbers, prompting Kenya Railways to increase the number of commuter rail trips to the city centre. RVR currently operates two trips in the morning and two in the evening on the Syokimau line.
The Sh427 billion SGR is expected to be completed by June 2017 and could prove a big competitor for buses, which are the main mode of passenger transport between Nairobi and Mombasa.
It is expected that the lesser travel time and reduced accident risk will draw more passengers to the train from buses.
Kenya Railways is yet to reveal how much it will charge for the train trip. Bus fares range from Sh1,000 to Sh2000 while it costs a minimum Sh2,950 to fly one way to the coastal city.
Passengers will be able to board and alight along the way in seven intermediate stations. These are Mariakani, Miasenyi, Voi, Mtito Andei, Kibwezi, Emali and Athi River.
Kenya Railways on Monday announced that about 50 kilometres of the SGR track has been laid and 60 per cent of civil works- which includes building bridges and earthworks - are complete, putting the Jubilee government on a firm path to completing the entire 450 kilometre line by June next year.
Mr Maina said that the Syokimau line is operated differently from the other commuter services to Kikuyu, Ruiru and Embakasi.
The corporation owns the rail and rolling stock while RVR manages the service for a fee. RVR owns the locomotives and coaches it operates on one-year concession terms for other routes.
Over the past several years, the train has provided city dwellers with an efficient, alternative to spending hours on traffic jams and paying the high fares that matatus and buses charge passengers for the delays.
Initially, RVR had been given a five-year concession for the commuter service and paid an annual fee of $1 million (Sh102 million) to Kenya Railways.
But with the lapse of the five years, the corporation has resorted to issuing one-year contracts and waived the annual fee, saying the commuter rail is not profitable for RVR.
Sammy Gachuhi, RVR’s general ganager (concession & external communications), said the firm is seeking a longer term agreement once the current one-year contract expires in June.
“We are currently in talks to see if this time can be lengthened before June 30,” he said.
Mr Maina, however, said that the annual licences are issued as they work on the longer term solution for the commuter rail system.
“RVR have provided proposals that they would like to provide that service for a longer term, but the proposals may also require some commitment on the part of the government in terms of investments and therefore those are things we are looking at,” he said.
He added that they are currently undertaking a 12-month study that will inform the capital needed to improve the commuter rail service after which they will hold talks with private sector players on the necessary investments.
The study will address issues of demand and new routes to be established as well as the financing needs.
“We are going to see the kind of investment that needs to be put in to improve services within the city. How much we need to put in as a company to play our part and what the government needs to do,” said Mr Gachuhi.
While the commuter train passenger numbers keep fluctuating, KRC estimates that about 12,000 Nairobians use the service on a daily basis.
KRC envisages an extensive commuter rail system where residents can park their vehicles at the stations and use the trains to move around the city in what would eliminate the current traffic congestion.