15 Jan #TheTrain II
The Past, The Present and The Politics
Been 2 years after i made a promise to bring you my thoughts on the new train, which am sure most of you have used and have your opinions about it.
If you missed my 19hr trip to Mombasa well here it is and if you never took the old train well here is what you missed, but first …
I actually get it, the lunatic express was one thing you would never touch even with a 10ft pole because of all the sad stories we kept spreading around right from it breaking down half way to wherever it was going to it taking forever to get there. Yes it was slow, yes it would breakdown anywhere, yes it had nothing modern even the slightest of things, heck lights would be switched off at 8am for reasons known to the management and we all agree little or nothing had been done to improve those trains since we got independence. That train was right from the pages of ancient history, having used the train close to 5 times I bet if you would breathe in deeply you would smell the pre and post – colonial travelers who used the train and if you don’t believe me goggle is your friend on this, read how far this train had deteriorated due to lack of maintenance. The good thing is it worked or rather it was forced to work since Kenya had no other rail facility.
Fast forward to 2017 and Kenya gets a new train facility. Its a step huge forward. A train that actually keeps time thanks to one, the technology its build on and two the fact that maybe not Africans are running it since Africans are known not to keep time.
The Standard gauge rail is not a new technology really, other countries been on it. The rail itself is wider than the former rail, which was only about a meter wide. Physics has it that the wider it is the higher the speeds due to the lowered center of gravity. This technology also prevents the train from derailing at high speeds (stability).
The engine might be new but are very ‘un – aerodynamic’ and still powered by our local jungle juice. The good thing is so far its working pretty well
Fare to Mombasa has reduced drastically since the 3000ksh you would pay in the second class of the older train is what you pay for the first class in the new train. Second Class fare to Mombasa is 700ksh
This section was to hold a small rant of what the future might be like but in Kenya we live one day at a time and every day we have to deal with politics of all sorts that makes us loose our vision for the future. Nevertheless other countries are moving ahead with electric and magnetic trains, trains that get to can get to 300km/hr,others even thinking of hyperloops and some ride on hangers
First off let me give credit where it’s due, the trains and they stations are spectacular. The stations are a fresh breath of something modern. Unlike in the older train, the officials here are neatly dressed and you actually communicate.
Step into the coaches, they are well lit, clean and the air condition works fine. There is a PA system works and there is a lady who keeps talking to you throughout the trip.
I however have a feeling that 70% of those who’ve used the madaraka express did so it to kill the curiosity, tick off something from their bucket list and maybe take pictures but they might never use it again for these reasons.
This is a 5 hour trip; the second class seats are very uncomfortable. The seats are almost at a 90-degree angle and as hard as the Nairobi county public seats. I don’t know who gave them the idea that seats facing each other are classy and matters worse the follow the 2+3 sitting formation. Here is the problem with seats that face each other and lack enough space between them; you can never stretch your legs because the person sitting in front of you might sue you for sexual harassment so you have then to sit like a robot waiting for the next command, woe unto you if you are tall. Additionally, it is not fun to sit facing a stranger for 5 hours. There is a small table that can properly serve the two people by the window the rest should look for alternatives.
The first class however, all the seats face one direction and are better than the second class but then we can’t all afford it. There is a buffet car, which only the first class enjoy. In the older train, this car was for everyone as long as you have paid for the meals, which to me was a fairer thing to do. It might not be complete so we can bear the burden for now, but the idea of having train station miles outside the CBD is not pleasing. Taxiy, which is one of the cheap taxi, will charge you about 700bob to the Nairobi terminus. You will pay almost the same amount when you get to Mombasa terminus, thus you shall have spent the same amount you would have used to get a comfortable, recline-able seat, free bottle of water and no strange faces in front of you in one of the bus companies that go down that route from Nairobi cbd to Mombasa cbd.
#What you missed
So if you have never used the old train, these are some of the few rich things you missed
The heritage – The Lunatic express had a rich and lovely story and actually you would feel sad it going into oblivion. It had an X factor that you would only experience in it if you looked beyond its age. All along the train ride you would actually feel the greatness and a feeling of victory that is written all over the train’s history.
The Lunatic express had little cubes in each car that would accommodate 4 people. The cubes had sleeping bunks which were also comfortable enough to serve as a seat. The coaches had their own issues, which some seriousness from the authorities would have easily fixed them but the basics for human survival were present.
Windows in the new train are not easily accessible and even if they were, you still have your train-mates to ask for permission before jumping over their legs to go take scenic pictures . The old train however, one would easily access the widows and because when the rail was being built they went for flat grounds you can stick you head out and take pictures as it curves and turns. This flat grounds search moreover took the rail line deep into the Tsavo game park, which acts as an interesting detour – adding flavor to your trip.
Good news is the train will be used but on very special requests and its only then you will be able to take such pictures…
Our next conquest is to use the Ethiopia – Djibouti train once its fully operational. We have already tested their electric commuter train that really impressed us but till then, tell us below what do you think of the SGR Train
Images from allover