The Madaraka Express; A Valuable Addition to Kenya’s Since its launch in May 31, 2017, the Madaraka Express (ME) Passenger Service has drawn both admiration and criticism in equal measure. To many, the project has been a blessing, easing their travels between the Coastal City of Mombasa and the Capital, Nairobi.
Rightfully termed ‘Kenya’s most ambitious infrastructure project since independence’, the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line has changed the dynamics of travelling between Mombasa and Nairobi. While it previously took close to ten hours to travel by bus on the same route, the Madaraka Express traverses this distance in almost half the time. Further, the journey is undoubtedly scenic, traversing through quaint landscapes and majestic national parks; Tsavo East and West specifically. Coupled with world class train termini and intermediate stations, high quality service and strategic pricing, the Madaraka Express has grown to become a critically acclaimed rail service. Most recently, the service was ranked seventh in a list of ‘The Most Remarkable Rail Tours for 2019’ by The Telegraph.
Further, the rail service has significantly contributed to opening up sleepy towns spread across the Nairobi – Mombasa route. It has enhanced opportunities for business in these towns especially in the transport and hospitality industry as tourists visiting the intermediate towns will require basic services such as taxis, food and hotels to stay in.
It has immensely contributed to the boosting of local tourism at the Coast since travelling is no longer the hassle it used to be. Locals simply book their tickets by dialing *639# on their mobile phones or online at metickets.krc.co.ke, receive their confirmation, show up on time during the date of travel and enjoy a relaxing ride aboard the train. Various tourism and hoteliers association have affirmed that they have indeed experienced a boost in business directly due to the passenger service’s operations.
Indeed, in the words of the revered German physicist, Albert Einstein, ‘there is nothing known as perfect’. The service has not been without its faults. In the past customers have voiced their complaints regarding various facets of the Passenger service and Kenya Railways, in conjunction with the railway operator, has always strived to make adjustments with an aim of achieving customer satisfaction.
In late 2017, a few months after the May launch of the service, an alternative booking mode was introduced in order to make the booking process more efficient. Customers could now book through a Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) code, *639#. This was a big relief since previously, the only booking platform was over the counter at the station posing a huge inconvenience especially to customers residing far away from the termini.
Various changes to the service have followed since. These included schedule adjustments to enhance flexibility for our customers. In a recent raft of changes, beginning June 1, 2019, the Passenger Service will be implementing a raft of changes in a bid to improve the service’s efficiency.
Among the major value-additive changes that will take effect include the ability for passengers to select their seats during booking as well as debit/credit card payment functionalities. The latter specifically is a great addition to the Passenger Service since even customers from outside Kenya will book their tickets in advance with ease. Previously, booking could only be done from within the country using the Mpesa platform. Further, the booking window will be extended from 30 to 60 days; allowing for more flexibility in planning of trips.
The Madaraka Express Passenger Service certainly has a prosperous future ahead of it. More and more passengers continue to embrace the service due to its various advantages over other modes of travel. With the planned launch of the SGR Phase 2A in August this year, the effects of the mega-project are about to spread even further easing both passenger and cargo transport and positively impact Kenyans through job creation and business opportunities.
The government is currently planning to connect the SGR to the existing Metre Gauge Railway and revamp the Naivasha-Nakuru- Eldoret-Malaba line. This will ensure seamless interconnection from the SGR line to the MGR line. In a recent press briefing held on May 8, 2019 at the Inland Container Depot (ICD) in Embakasi, the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing, Urban Development and Public Works (MoTIHUD&PW), Mr. James Macharia, revealed the government’s plans with regards to the infrastructure developments.
“The interconnectivity between SGR and MGR is a major priority for the government. We are already in talks with industry experts to work out the logistics of the transshipment to ensure safety of goods in transit and minimal time inefficiencies. We are planning to revamp the Naivasha-Nakuru-Eldoret- Malaba line, he said.
All these developments are set to positively impact Kenya’s economy. An elaborate and properly functioning rail network ensures efficient and timely movement of passengers and cargo thus earning the country more revenue. Further, the development of this network will boost operations at the Port of Mombasa; a major revenue earner for Kenya and a strategically placed hub for cargo operations not only in Kenya but in East Africa.
Kenya Railways is indeed on the right path towards serving the nation by developing its rail infrastructure network and thus staying true to her mission of providing efficient and safe rail services.