11 Jan #TheTrain
Time is 2040hrs, location is Kenya Railways Platform 1 on line three. Destination is Mombasa. The waiting bay and the train is all dark but from a distance I notice bright light from torches of guys boarding the train on the last coaches.
“Your coach number is 2315 and it’s on the other end “said a train attendant with a heavy kikuyu accent. I drag my bag while using my phone to read the coach numbers, an action I will regret 10hrs later. I had to use my other 4 senses to locate compartment D in that coach because clearly sight was not helping. The darkness in that coach was thicker than the 3 days and nights that the children of Israel had to go through…but I got to my cube safely.
20mins later after looking for the trip’s manager, there was light. Quick checks for stray cats or dogs through the cube and as much as there was none of those, as soon as i switched on the light cockroaches; scampered for safety in all directions. I checked and found out the last human to use that cube left trash in the train bin. I did not know who exactly i was mad at, the guy who left the trash or the train attendant who obviously didn’t care.
At 2230hrs, the train hoots then the stop and go lights in the waiting bay went green then after being rocked back & forth, the train started to roll forward. The Station’s PA system was on the song careless whisper. I stood at the window and felt a feeling of greatness, I felt like a soldier going to battle to fight for a generation yet to be born only difference being I had no one to wave or kiss goodbye like they do in the movies.
The original Uganda Railway was transformed into the East African Railway Cooperation (EARC) after WW I. The EARC managed the railways of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanganyika until the collapse of the East African community in 1977.During this collapse, the three presidents agreed that everything you have keep it …and that’s how our Nairobi museum has the oldest train from Tanganyika (which by the way was used in the movie Out of Africa) got trapped in Kenya. Subsequently KR as we all know it today took over the Kenyan part of the EARC.
Right from inception, trains have really improved in many ways right from steam engine to diesel powered locomotives. The coaches too have they own basic improvements to help you go through 15+ hrs in them.
So planning to take the train … basic principle in their charges 1st class; pay for bed, bedding, one meal, drinks and a big cube, 2nd class; bed, bedding, one meal and a small cube, 3rd class; you pay for a seat for as little as 680/=
The GE U26C diesel locomotive model was introduced by GE Transportation Systems in 1971. All examples of this model are six axle units. The locomotives delivered new to Kenya were derated to 1,950 kW (2,610 hp), a turbocharged V12 four-stroke diesel engine, generator and auxiliary equipment are easily accessible under a long hood. With 7,500 Liters to the brim of our local jungle juice, the massive engine is meant to deal with pulling the many coaches that need to be moved around.
It’s a cube of about 4*3*4 in dimension …. this is smaller than a prison cell and the few things that will actually make it not feel like a prison are actually not there so in essence you are in a moving wobbly cell for however long the distance you are traveling.
In this age of mobile gadgets, if you are planning to use the train over approximately 200km you better have a power bank to charge the another power bank which really charges a smaller power bank that charges your gadgets because the trains got no full time lights and even if it had electricity throughout the journey there are no sockets. Lights are put off at 8am which really I don’t understand because such an engine should have some form of alternator that charges something that in turn should give us electricity all through but then again maybe that will come with the new trains.
If you are a die-hard fan of smooth and no funny noises kinda rides look away from the train. Okay for the rail/wheel noises I can try to understand because the rail itself is not so even given its age, so at some point it’s all quiet and smooth but most of it is noisy and rocks in all kinds of direction. The coaches are old and the people responsible, have not taken a minute off they ‘busy’ schedule to try repair those coaches. There was noise, noise you can’t even identify with, toilet doors banging, cabinet door hinges squeaking and other noises created during a horror movie shoot.
In my small cube, the window did not shut, the tap leaked to the floor away from the drain hole of the cube. I hear God gives you credit for trying to read the bible but no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t; the mosquitoes that were on that train can suck out your bone marrow. I am not really sure what the management is doing with the trains …seeing that its 21st century and the conditions in them are not all rosy …tell you what if you were in that train and breath-in really good i bet you could smell the Africans who used the train when the railway was being constructed. That’s how lightly the coaches are kept.
The first beam of morning light got me awake and at around 9 a bell went off…it was time for breakfast. 12hrs had given me a slight headache, my arm joints were aching from all the swaying trying to kill mosquitoes and we were only half way to Mombasa and I could only imagine what the guys in 3rd class go through for such a journey. Pride Inn is responsible for keeping stomachs happy and as much as they do some good work on land, on the train … well you need to understand the restaurant coach too is rocking. If not careful you can get burnt as the waiter tries to aim for your cup to pour hot coffee in it and then the coach hits a ‘pothole’. The Best part was I had breakfast in the wild; looking at elephants as i take tea, something I only see in the movies.
It’s officially day time …no electricity, no gadgets. If you had books you never had the peace to read them. The temperatures in the cubes start rising. All the lil snacks you had carried you had to eat sparingly because u never know what time you will arrive. This miniature back to early man days dictate you either know you neighbor just like the ‘nyumba kumi Initiative’ or you hang on the window and count trees as you wave bye to anyone you see. Personally I choose knowing people and sadly I ran out of train mates to know with about 6 more hours to the journey, so I joined everyone else in counting trees.
And this was the norm up to and including 1730hrs when we arrived at Mombasa train station. Those were approximately 19hours on a train
What i kept guessing is, KRC officials think…..’Then again if you want such luxury take the bus or buy your own car’.
But why the train
I won’t try justify or create goodness about the train …experience is the only thing that can take you to the train. It has that rich untouchable feeling you will never get elsewhere. A feeling of greatness, a feeling of ‘divine-ness’, a feeling of trodding the path where our great grandfathers trode, a feeling once in a while you need to feel complete. And yes I will take that train ride again and again even on the new SGR to come.
The train has its advantages like when using a car the farthest u can stretch is as far as the space is in your legroom, but in the train you can cross from one coach to the other.This can come in handy for mothers with babies who are slightly hard to keep calm in one place.
The train can be really awesome when you want to take long deep personal thoughts into something … say writing your Will, eulogy or even a novel and you don’t want to be distracted by anything like phone calls, whatsapp messages, movies and the like because in there electricity is a luxury so its basically down to you and yourself.
What to take on a train ride
I enjoy my own company a lot but that’s just me.If you are planning to take a train, here is the list of things you need to carry especially if its a long distance journey.
Friends; don’t you dare go alone, stock food as if the world is at a brink of another ice age, power bank(S) that you will use to charge the main power bank that charges the power bank charging your gadgets. Have a strong heart because there is no PA System in there (I think the cockroaches ate it all) and the train might stop for even for over 30mins and you are told nothing, whether its broken down or alshabab etc
Please note if you are using the train when they write Departure time, know chances are the locomotive wouldn’t be around by then and if it will, the rail won’t be clear for you guys to leave so you might have to wait.
Did you know the train wheels are actually spherical? They tend to be narrow towards the outside. The sole purpose for this is to help it take corners and avoid the train derailing.
The train has no regards for technology they still use the colonial system where the drivers carry ‘tokens’. Since our track is a single track … train drivers exchange tokens (a metal plate) on arrival at a station to show the track is clear. For example we had to wait at Syokimau station for nearly 40min for the train that was on the track to bring a token to us to allow us use the track as the only train on it…interesting huh? But really out dated. Like why don’t they call?
Driver at the station waiting: ‘where are you mister?’
Driver On track: i just derailed 20kms from the station. You will have to wait alil more
I am hoping someone with the powers will read this article and actually do something to the train sector. I believe if that sector would be seriously worked on in a manner that i can work in Nairobi and live in Naivasha simply because there is a one hour train to/from Naivasha ….the matatu sector will behave.
The daily commuter train how again does it not work on weekends?? is it lack of fuel? drivers maybe? I know, we have many problems in this country but can we at least get a few things right that will just bring hope to the land.
But this are my sentiments what do you guys think? Kindly leave a comment below and dont forget to follow #theTrain on twitter and learn what I learned in the museum or better yet go down there yourself.