The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) passenger train dubbed the ‘Madaraka Express’ began its maiden journey to Nairobi on 31st May with President Uhuru Kenyatta describing it as a new chapter in Kenya’s history.
Speaking before launching the service, the Head of State said it marked 120 years since the Lunatic Express was launched by the British Government. The $3.2bn (£2.5bn) Chinese-funded railway is the country’s biggest infrastructure project since independence. It was also built by a Chinese company and many of the drivers and engineers will be Chinese to start with, while Kenyans are being trained to take over. For now, the line stretches for 472 kms (293 miles) but there is a 25-year master-plan for it to link land-locked South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and eastern DR Congo to the Indian Ocean.
It took three-and-a-half years to build the railway line, using Chinese track-laying technology. The line is interposed by 79 bridges, 2 major stations, 7 intermediate stations and 23 passing stations. It takes 4 1/2 hours to get from Mombasa to Nairobi, compared to 9 hours by bus or 12 hours on the previous railway. The railway passes through some of Kenya’s famed national parks. Each station on the railway line has been designed to blend in with the local environment. Athi River station is intended to mirror the nearby hills, while the striped Miasenyi station was inspired by zebras. The spectacular Mombasa terminus was designed to resemble waves and ripples in the water radiating from the central tower, while the platforms and track lines represent the ocean shores.
The Madaraka Express will be transporting up to 1,200 passengers daily, charging between Sh700 to Sh3,000 based on class of travel, to and from the coastal city, and will be managed by the China Communications Construction Company for five years before its hand over to the Kenyan Government.