New standard gauge train to cut travel cost by half

Saturday May 6 2017

Kenya has already procured 40 passenger coaches. FILE PHOTO |

Kenya has already procured 40 passenger coaches. FILE PHOTO |  NMG

By DAVID HERBLING
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Passengers on the up-coming Nairobi-Mombasa railway will pay a concessional fee priced at half the fare being charged by buses, says Transport and Infrastructure Cabinet Secretary James Macharia.

He said passengers will enjoy a six-month offer during which there will be two train services plying the standard gauge railway – one to Nairobi and another to Mombasa – to help gauge the demand for passengers. The new train launches on May 31.

A final report on the passenger and cargo tariffs will be out in a week, the minister said.

This means economy travellers on the high-speed train will pay between Sh500 and Sh800; being half what buses charge for the journey between the capital and the seaside port of Mombasa.

“The cost will be half of what the buses are currently charging,” Mr Macharia told the Sunday Nation. “Various teams are working on the details,” he added.

President Uhuru Kenyatta will take a symbolic ride on May 31 aboard the high-speed train ahead of celebrations to mark Madaraka Day on June 1, when Kenya attained self-internal rule from Britain.

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.

The Transport minister said the government is banking on speed, reliability and pricing of the new railcars to attract passengers who use buses and budget airlines.

The SGR passenger trains will run at an average speed of 120km per hour, cutting the time between Nairobi and Mombasa to about five hours from the current nine-hour journey by buses and 12 hours by rail.

Rift Valley Railways (RVR), the operator of the old line, currently charges Sh4,405 for a one-way first class ride between Nairobi and Mombasa. A ride in the second and economy classes costs Sh2,335 and Sh680, respectively.

The rickety RVR trains are known for delays, with trips taking longer than the 12-hour schedule due to an old fleet of unreliable locomotives and wagons.

A spot-check at the River Road/Latema Road bus terminus showed that Mash Poa is charging Sh1,000 as fare between the two cities, Coast Bus (Sh1,200), Dreamliner Express (Sh1,300), and Modern Coast (Sh1,400).

Tweak service

After the six-month promotional period, the train services will be tweaked to match the demand, the minister said, and adopt a new pricing.

For example, there may be more journeys between Friday and Sunday when Nairobi residents may want to take a break in Mombasa and return before Monday.  The government rejected an earlier proposal by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) to charge Sh4,500 as fare on the line; saying it was not feasible. CRBC is the builder and will operate the SGR railway.

There are seven major stations where the inter-county SGR train will stop in the 472km journey between Nairobi and Mombasa. A total of 33 stations have been built along the line.

The Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge rail-line is being financed through a $2 billion commercial loan from the Chinese government and a further $1.6 billion semi-concessional loan from Beijing.