Residents cry out as Githurai killer bridge lures more victims
By Lilys Njeru
When my husband does not return home at the agreed time, this bridge is what, subconsciously, comes into my mind. And it gets me worried that something terrible could have happened to him,” Ms Martha Njoki, a Githurai 45 resident, says as she crosses the same “killer bridge”.
The 30-metre overpass, which is about 100 metres off the Thika Super Highway, is on a railway line.
Commuter and goods trains use it at least three times a day and there are wide gaps — big enough for a grown up to pass through — between the rails.
Some railway sleepers have deep splits, a looming danger for walkers.
As a result, it requires calculated acts to cross. Below, a slow-moving sewage-filled river waits for its next victims, just as it has done for decades.
The infamous flyover connects four populous estates and villages — Kamae, Soweto, Mji wa Raha and Congo — with a population of more than 50,000 residents.
In addition, individuals from other places use the bridge to access social amenities such as Kahawa Healthcare Centre, Kahawa Primary School and the railway station.
While there is the option of accessing the facilities using the main road, the route is long and one would have to spend a minimum fare of Sh100. The bridge route is only one-and-a-half kilometres.
Residents have been forced to use the railway line bridge after the construction of the Kahawa West-Congo-Githurai 45 road hit a snag.
Mr Stephen Kibathi, the chairperson of Development of Soweto Slums group doubles up as a church minister. In the past five years, he has performed funeral rites for about five individuals crushed to death by trains.
“Every year, lives are lost here. It is something that we dread yet know that it will happen, soon or later,” he says.
Towards the end of last year, according to Mr Kibathi, a young man who was a regular user of the bridge was crushed to death. “On that fateful day, he was so preoccupied with his earphones that he did not hear the train hoot. People shouted and made warning gestures at him, but nothing worked,” he told the Nation.
But not only lives have been lost, we learnt. Mr Harrison Ndung’u, a boda boda rider, lost his motorbike at the bridge three months ago. It was barely a year old and he had acquired it through a loan.
“I had lent my friend the bike when it happened. You see, because of the wide gaps, an inexperienced rider cannot ride the bike on the overpass. One has to carefully move it on the rails. When he saw the train coming, he panicked, left the motorbike and ran for his life into the nearby thickets. The freight train destroyed the bike,” he says.
A few metres from the killer bridge, boda boda business is thriving and insecurity has increased.
When the Nation photographer visited the spot, he had to part with Sh200 to be allowed to take photos. And while on a follow-up to file this story, this reporter and a photographer overheard two men discuss how they could make a killing from the camera the photojournalist had.
‘BASE’ FOR THUGS
A frequent user of the route who sought anonymity for security purposes disclosed that the area is a ‘base’ for thugs and a migration route for illegal drugs.
“You might think that they are just whiling away time but they are in business — discussing who to send the drugs to or their next target. Other times, they remove the railroad tie plates and sell to scrap metal dealers,” he said, pointing to a group of men.
Residents are now pointing fingers at their leaders, who they say have failed to act on the problem.
Mr Estephano Kimani, also a pastor, has lived in the area for 16 years.
He said tens of people had died while crossing the bridge. “Several political leaders have promised to construct a connecting road here but they did not,” he said.
When the Nation first visited the area in 2014, there were plans by the now defunct City Council of Nairobi to construct a connecting road but it was never constructed.
Kahawa MCA Joseph Komu faulted previous leaders for not addressing the issue. “This has been a concern for many years and it is my priority project for Kahawa ward,” he said.
However, before the road is done, the bridge will be waiting for its next victim.