President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to launch the passenger train service between Mombasa and Nairobi on May 31, 2017. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTEPresident Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to launch the passenger train service between Mombasa and Nairobi on May 31, 2017. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE
By EDDY KAGERA

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s scheduled maiden ride aboard the modern SGR train on Wednesday May 31, 2017 has caused quite a buzz.

The symbolic journey from Mombasa to Nairobi marks the beginning of passenger services to millions of Kenyans on what is arguably one of the most futuristic development projects in Africa.

But amid all the engineering jargon and mind-boggling figures involved, the ordinary passenger remains largely oblivious of the opportunities that the 472-kilometer modern railway presents. It’s simple though.

FATIGUING BUS RIDE

First, think about being able to move from Mombasa to Nairobi in roughly four-and-a-half hours. The same journey will consume your 10 hours in a fatiguing bus ride, which ironically costs more.

To the budget traveler, especially businessmen, you can now save on hotel accommodation. Why? Because you can leave Nairobi early in the morning, be in Mombasa by 9.30 am for your business engagements, and still make it back to Nairobi before nightfall courtesy of the fast iron baby.

Irritating traffic jams at Mariakani, along Uhuru Highway and other hotspots will be the last thing on your mind.

Reckless drivers will also no longer bully you off the road. They will be quietly seated next to you in the train enjoying free Wi-Fi, their cars safely parked at home. This driver will be all too happy to save on time, fuel and maintenance cost as well as the higher risk of cruising for well over a 1,000 kilometres to Mombasa and back, and vice versa.

For half the length of the journey, passengers will also be tourists. Yes. They will be able to comfortably enjoy the scenic view in the vast Tsavo national park, one of the biggest in the world, and the wildlife therein.

Just imagine catching an epic duel of say a lion and an elephant in the African savanna. The first time I witnessed such a duel was in 1998 when I toured Tsavo National Park. That time the elephant retreated after a fierce fight with the hippo.  I’m tempted to think that I would ask the locomotive driver to stop so as to catch a glimpse of a rematch it ever happened while I’ on board the train.

REFRESHING BREAK

The picturesque Chyulu, Taita and other hills will give many a rather refreshing break from the congestion and pollution of our cities. But fair reasoning reminds me that “deree kanyangia” is foreign lingo for a modern train travelling at 120 kph.

Free Wi Fi onboard and a smart phone in hand, means one will be able to take as many pictures and even videos, think one with a towering giraffe in the background, and share with friends across the world real-time.

Kenyans are famous for small vanities and I would not be surprised if the hashtags #SGRtings trended for a year. How do I know that will happen? It is simple, talk of the rangi ya thao ladies (read the crew) who will be a permanent fixture in the train. And given the fine girls watakuwa ndani, ndaani, ndaaani, I envisage the #TeamMafisi headquarters moving into the trains, for obvious reasons.

Only the other day, some Chinese couples exchanged vows in some of the stations, literally. So exotic is the striking SGR, and its stations, that in a foreseeable future, local blogs could be teeming with feel-good narratives as couples confess to first meeting in the train journey.

It will go something like: Marylyn: We were cruising in SGR and I saw a giraffe chasing a squirrel and was like wow… I looked at Mike and I admired his composure… the rest is history…

SECOND PHASE

What’s more? When the second phase of the SGR is completed, those travelling to Naivasha, Kisumu, Bungoma and Busia will also start enjoying matunda ya Uhuru (the fruits of living in a free country).

But there is also the business bit, which a friend on Facebook recently enumerated. The chap reminded Kenyans that it is not only about travelling and sightseeing, the mega coaches will take care of small business interests via onboard advertising.

Ndicu Kuria thought of virtual advertising “…Your adverts show everything you are selling with each product having a QR Code which leads the passenger straight to a shopping page where they choose whatever they want, pay by MPESA and….this is the clever bit……their shopping is ready for them already packed and bagged the moment they alight from the train in whichever station they alight at. Of course our retailer has to be an impeccable Logistician seeing as he/ she will have less than 4 hours to receive, process and prepare orders,” he said.

Experts have predicted that once completed, the SGR will add 1.5 per cent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

BOOST TRADE

The SGR will also boost intra-African trade by supporting the tourism industry and reducing the cost of transportation.

Kenya has already procured 40 passenger coaches, each with a capacity of 118 travellers, for the economy class, 72 people in the business class, and 44 in the first-class section.

Each cargo locomotive (DF8B) is capable of towing 216 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) weighing an estimated 4,000 tonnes per trip and it is estimated that in top operation, the Mombasa Port will see 22 million tonnes cargo moved annually against the current 1.6 million.

Amid the anxiety, as well await that first ride on the SGR; one thing is certain; that interesting times await aboard this rollercoaster of ride.