Buses plying the Mombasa-Nairobi route could be headed for another round of loss-making after Kenya Railways Corporation launched a morning inter-county train Wednesday.
The Madaraka Express train that has been operational since June will now make stops at Athi River, Emali, Kibwezi, Mtito Andei, Voi, Miasenyi and Emali stations twice a day.
The stops are in Machakos, Makueni, Taita-Taveta, Kwale and Kilifi counties. The express service has been rescheduled for 3.30pm daily.
Using the train is cheaper than bus and matatu service. Bus fare from Voi to Mombasa is Sh300 but one will only use Sh210 by train.
Mombasa-Mariakani fare is usually Sh100 but the train charges Sh50.
From Nairobi to Voi, bus passengers pay Sh1,000 as opposed to Sh510 on the train.
Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, who flagged off the first inter-county train said there has been an increased demand for transport provided by the Chinese built Sh327 billion standard gauge railway.
“The train has been in operation for more than five months and we are also in the process of rolling out the second phase of construction connecting Nairobi to Naivasha which will be completed in about 36 months,” the minister said.
The booking window has also been increased to seven days from three.”
He added that the ministry would upgrade access roads to the nine stations in the coming six months.
Matatu Owners Association chairman Simon Kimutai said passenger numbers for high capacity buses could be reduced but business would thrive for the small operators.
“The train and buses complement one another. In fact, the cheap fares offered by the train encourage movement. Matatus will get business from that,” he told the Nation.
KRC is expected to introduce freight services between Nairobi and Mombasa next year.
Already 120,000 tonnes of cereals have been transported on the train.
The train can carry 1,620 boxed and flat wagons pulled by 43DF8B freight locomotives.
Every cargo locomotive is capable of towing 216 twenty-foot equivalent units weighing an estimated 4,000 tonnes per trip.
It is estimated that in top operation, the Mombasa port will see 22 million tonnes cargo moved annually against the current 1.6 million.
“The freight service will lower the cost of cargo transport by up to 35 per cent. Full commercial operations will start once tariffs are approved,” KRC managing director Atanas Maina said.
According to the China Road and Bridge Construction, which is the project’s engineering, procurement and construction contractor, more than 420,000 passengers have used the train since its launch.
Two trains heading either way picked up and dropped passengers for the first time at Athi River in Machakos County, Emali, Kibwezi and Mtito Andei in Makueni, Voi in Taita-Taveta, Miasenyi on the border of Taita-Taveta and Kwale counties and Mariakani in Kilifi.
At Kibwezi Railway Station, the Mombasa-bound train arrived at 10.12am, two hours and 12 minutes after departure.
It left three minutes later after three passengers alighted and a dozen others got on board. The Nairobi-bound train arrived at 11.44am.
Mr Stephen Musyoka, who travelled from Mombasa to Kibwezi was elated. “The coaches are clean and comfortable,” he said.
China’s ambassador to Kenya Liu Xianfa said by ferrying 2,750 passengers daily, the train service was a huge success for his country’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Additional reporting by Pius Maundu