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SGR fully booked as air fares rise ahead of Christmas

Madaraka Express train
Passengers board the Madaraka Express train at the Nairobi terminus. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The standard gauge railway (SGR) passenger train service between Nairobi and Mombasa is fully booked ahead of Christmas forcing holiday makers to seek expensive alternatives like road and air travel.

The bookings register shows that trains are fully booked between December 21 to 23 with the few seats available on December 24 set to be snapped up in coming days.

This is set to boost bus owners and airlines like Jambojet and Silverstone as families look to enjoy the holiday in Mombasa and the South Coast.

Airlines have also increased fares from Nairobi to Mombasa ahead of Christmas on early bookings and the ticker prices are expected to rise further in coming days.

As a result, the Chinese operator running the SGR service is planning to add additional coaches to meet the rising demand.

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“We are fully booked over the weekend heading to December 25. The bookings have come early after we changed the early reservation period to 60 days from the initial 30," said an official at Africa Star Railway Operations Company (Afristar), the operator of Madaraka Express.

Increased bookings have also been witnessed in the next two weeks, an indicator that more people will travel to the Coast way before Christmas.

For instance, in the next two weeks, the SGR train has a few seats available, mainly in the economy section as the first class section is almost fully booked.

Fares on the economy class section are Sh1, 000 with first class tickets going for Sh3, 000.

A spot check on the Kenya Railways website indicates that train tickets for most days up to December 24 are booked with spaces remaining on a few weekday dates.

However, the traffic on bookings eases from December 25 with availability on economy class and a few seats on first class. Ticket prices for early plane bookings between December 20 and 23 have nearly doubled on some routes compared to reservations made a month ago while some flights are close to full bookings for the Christmas period. This means that Kenyans intending to fly during the festive season will pay more, promising to boost revenues of the carriers that have received a lift from increased tourist arrivals. Those booking early to fly to Mombasa in the week to Christmas on Fly540 are paying up to Sh15, 500, up from less than Sh10, 000.

The carriers’ main challenge has been convincing Kenyans to book early, which is vital to the low-cost model, a signal that those seeking flights close to Christmas day will pay more. Kenya Railways has previously been increasing coaches on the Nairobi-Mombasa line, since the SGR’s launch in June 2017, to match rising demand that has denied bus operators new customers.

A train has capacity for 1,260 passengers with 15 economy class and three first class coaches. It also comes with a luggage carrier with a total capacity of 70 tonnes. The rising number of travellers to the Coast is a boon for hoteliers who expect visitor numbers to increase their revenue during this festive season.

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