NAIROBI (Xinhua) --
Ever since it was launched in 2017, the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR)
passenger train has become the transport of choice for many
Kenyans wishing to travel to the Coast, some 400 km away from
the capital Nairobi.
Most citizens prefer
the mode of travel because it is faster as compared to road
transport; it is also reliable, convenient and most importantly
On Nov. 27 while
planning for a staff training of 20, which was to take place at
the Coast, Caroline Kimeu knew transport was covered because of
the SGR service.
“I actually did
everything else, including booking for accommodation and
organizing for the trainers, and saved transport for the last.
Knowing that it was still early for Christmas rush, therefore I
would get seats on the train,” she recounted on Tuesday.
However, when Kimeu,
the administration officer at a non-governmental organization in
Nairobi, sought to book the train tickets for the Dec. 2 trip,
she was shocked to learn there was no space.
“The train to
Mombasa was full on that day until Dec. 17, the system informed
me. It was a shock and we had to look for alternative transport.
We hired a minibus to Mombasa, which increased our costs,” she
said, noting that she booked for her team the train from Mombasa
to Nairobi, which is not full.
The SGR train,
dubbed the Madaraka Express, that runs between Nairobi and the
coastal city of Mombasa, is fully booked to capacity over a
month ahead of Christmas as Kenyans seeking convenience rush to
get space in the service.
It is the first time
since the launch of the service that Kenyans have filled the
train nearly a month to the start of Christmas holidays as early
booking craze catches on, especially with the service.
Among those who have
booked the train are companies taking their staff for training,
team building sessions or end-year parties to the Coast, foreign
tourists, businesspersons, families and domestic tourists.
“Last year I missed
the train to Mombasa because I tried to book on Dec. 10 for the
Dec. 20 journey. I had to drive to and from Mombasa with my
family,” said Cyrus Kutoi, a medical doctor.
“This time, I booked
space on the train for my Dec. 22 trip on Nov. 18. I was
surprised that I was not the only early bird because a number of
seats were already taken,” said Kutoi.
The train takes
slightly over four hours to journey from Nairobi to Mombasa and
vice versa, therefore, cuts travel time by up to three hours for
Kenyans who would otherwise have used road.
Fares are 1,000
Kenyan shillings (9.8 U.S. dollars) for the economy class and 29
dollars for first class, with the charges being one of the main
reasons Kenyans love the train.
According to Kenya
Railways Corporation (KRC), the Madaraka Express train is fully
booked for this month, with only few spaces remaining,
especially on week days.
KRC acting managing
director Philip Mainga, however, said the number of coaches
would be increased in the coming weeks ahead of Christmas from
current nine to 14 for the economy class to cater for the high
With the train full,
buses, airlines and other modes of transport to the Coast have
increased their fares to cash in on high demand.
It currently costs
up to 392 dollars return tickets from Nairobi to Mombasa on
national carrier Kenya Airways when one books through an agent,
up from 254 dollars in low season.
Smaller airlines are
charging an average of 112 dollars for the one-way ticket on the
same route, up from 54 dollars.
Bus companies are
currently charging an average of 14.7 dollars from Nairobi to
Mombasa, up from 9.8 dollars, with fares rising further,
especially on Fridays and Saturdays when bookings surge.
Bernard Mwaso, a
consultant with Edell IT Solution in Nairobi, said besides
convenience and affordability, what has made Kenyans go for the
train service is ease in booking via mobile phones.
“To book the train,
all one needs is visit the website, and purchase one-way or
return ticket and pay,” he said. “But there is even an easier
way of using the USSD code (also known as Quick Codes), which is
faster and this is what has made even many go for service
because you secure a seat from any part of Kenya you are and on
any date with no kind of restriction.”