Passengers at the boarding bay at Nairobi terminus on May 29, 2017. President Uhuru Kenyatta is set to launch the train service on May 31, 2017. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Cost, safety and convenience may be the main factors to determine which mode of transport travellers between Nairobi and Mombasa choose, even as the standard gauge railway launches operations.
Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia says the new railway will charge a half of what bus companies demand and will cut by half the time it takes to travel between the two cities.
Travellers will initially pay Sh900 for economy and Sh3,000 for business class, which will also be known as first class in Kenya Railways Corporation lingo.
“We looked at the market rates and the sustainability of it. We want it sustainable while making sure Kenyans enjoy the comfort at affordable rates.
“The economy class is estimated at half the price of bus fare and the business class will be around Sh3,000,” he said.
The fares for these classes will be lower by December when the operators launch a second type of train service.
The fares, to be published this week, are a result of a study by Aarvee of India in collaboration with Wanjohi & Mutonyi Consulting Engineers (technical), Equity Investment Bank (financial) and Amolo & Gacoka Advocates (legal), groups that the government hired in March to help determine the fares for the new railway.
President Uhuru Kenyatta will launch the rail service on Wednesday in Mombasa, a project built by the Chinese to a tune of Sh327 billion, and thereafter embark on its maiden journey to Nairobi.
Chinese President Xi Jingping has sent his special envoy, State Councillor Wang Yong, to represent him during ceremony.
The train will initially offer two classes of passengers — economy and business class — but will launch its premier class by December this year.
Some 40 passenger coaches will initially be procured, with a capacity of 118 travellers for the economy class, 72 for business class, and 44 for first class.
By December, the operator of the train service, a Chinese consortium called China Communications Construction Company, plans to offer two types of passenger services.
An inter-city one will offer express service between Mombasa and Nairobi, with one stop at Mtito Andei before proceeding. According to Kenya Railways, this will allow the other train going in the opposite direction to pass.
The other one is a “county train” meant to carry passengers between the two cities but with stops at each of the nine stations along the way. This will include Mariakani, Miaseny, Voi, Mtito Andei, Kibwezi, Emali and Athi River.
China Communications Construction Company will run the system for the next 10 years before handing it over to Kenyan operators, once local staff are trained, Mr Macharia said.
Mr Macharia said the key competitive advantage of the new train service is that it cuts by half the time it takes to travel by land between Mombasa and Nairobi but charges the same fares as buses or lower.
At a maximum speed of 120km per hour, the train can take about four hours to complete the 472km journey. But Kenya Railways has put the travel time at five hours because of the stops it will have to make at the other stations.
"We know that buses take about nine to ten hours. Travellers will cover that in half the time, so this is going to be a real advantage," Mr Macharia said.
He acknowledges that the train will neither take all passengers nor take buses off the road. But it means that train operators, airlines and bus companies will have to enhance their niche.
"This only means travellers will have a choice. Everyone will still operate, but Kenyans will know what to use. For SGR, the fares are mwananchi-friendly."
The main bus companies plying this route — Mash and Modern Coast — charge Sh1,000 and Sh1,400, respectively. Others include Coast Bus (Sh1,200) and Dreamliner (Sh1,300).