Society

Matatu greed terminus lies in good train service

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Hostesses wait to usher in commuters to the newly commissioned diesel trains at the Nairobi Central Railway Station on November 10, 2020. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

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Summary

  • There are still many areas which are not covered by the railway in Kenya.
  • The ongoing refurbishment and upgrading of railway lines is welcome and will be of great benefit to the ordinary mwanainchi.
  • Unscrupulous public service vehicle operators will find it difficult to exploit travelers in future because they will have a choice.

During the Christmas season, my wife’s niece who stays with us in Karen, travelled to see her family in Nairage Enkare, which is 30 kilometres northeast of Narok town.

On her return journey she booked herself on the Suswa-Nairobi SGR train at a cost of Sh100 for a travel time of 20 minutes.

The train was to leave at 10.30 am on Sunday 3 January 2021 but she arrived a few minutes late only to find that the train had left the station at the appointed time.

She was obliged to take a matatu from Suswa which charged Sh1,200 (normal fare is Sh400). The trip to Nairobi took over four hours because there was a traffic snarl up on the escarpment.

Over the same period one of our domestic staff travelled to Kakamega by bus and she paid Sh2,500 (normal fare is Sh1,000) for a 12 hour trip. The matatu and bus industry had taken advantage of the festive season to hike fares threefold.

It is, therefore, gratifying to note the recent efforts to revive the Nairobi-Nanyuki and Nakuru-Kisumu metre railway lines.

The Nairobi-Nanyuki passenger service commenced operations on 11 December 2020, although cargo operations had started earlier in September with Vivo Energy (operator of Shell-branded petrol stations) as the anchor tenant on the 240 kilometre refurbished line which cost the taxpayer Sh1.8 billion.

Making a round trip weekly, departing on Friday and returning on Sundays at a cost of Sh200 for economy class and Sh1,000 for business class. The train has a capacity of 1,600 passengers per trip.

Work on the Nakuru-Kisumu line is still in progress and is expected to be completed towards the end of 2021. The rehabilitation of the 216 kilometre railway line is estimated to cost Sh3.7 billion under a partnership between Kenya Defense Forces and Kenya Railways Corporation to dovetail with the recently completed Kisumu port.

Once complete, the passenger service will safeguard travelers to Western Kenya from unscrupulous public service vehicle operators who hike fares during periods of high demand.

While acknowledging that cargo, rather than passenger business is the main revenue earner for the refurbished railway lines, passengers will nevertheless benefit from a cheap, safe, timely and comfortable travel experience.

Elsewhere, the Nairobi commuter rail service was launched in November 2020, moving a total of 13,000 passenger on a daily basis.

The commuter rail service is a network of diesel trains serving Nairobi and its suburbs. It aims to modernise and expand the city’s underutilised commuter rail infrastructure to reduce congestion on roads and create an efficient and affordable mass rapid transit system.

The project includes upgrades to existing stations, rolling stock, signaling systems and around 100 klometres of track, as well as the construction of new stations in Buru Buru, Pipeline, Umoja, Githurai and, Donholm.

It will be implemented in three phases to improve safety, reliability, comfort and, to increase capacity from five million to 15 million passengers annually following the completion of phase one and to 60 million after full completion of the project.

As cities become increasingly larger and more complex with globalisation, passenger requirements and demands on mass transit grow accordingly to meet enhanced safety, punctuality, availability, speed, capacity, and energy efficiency.

The train stands at the forefront of the passenger experience with the highest payload and shortest point to point elapsed time.

Yes, it is going to offer stiff competition to the matatu and bus industry in terms of cost, punctuality, safety, comfort, and time but rather than try to fight the train service this an opportunity for the public service vehicles to up their game in discipline and those very key issues listed.

There are still many areas which are not covered by the railway in Kenya.

The ongoing refurbishment and upgrading of railway lines is welcome and will be of great benefit to the ordinary mwanainchi.

Unscrupulous public service vehicle operators will find it difficult to exploit travelers in future because they will have a choice.