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Six unusual things you will see on SGR train  

Wednesday May 31 2017

A new passenger train at the Nairobi terminus

A new passenger train at the Nairobi terminus on May 29, 2017. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

AGGREY MUTAMBO
By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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President Uhuru Kenyatta will today launch the standard gauge railway passenger train service at the Miritini station in Mombasa.

The President is expected to travel by train to Nairobi in the company of senior government and Chinese officials ahead of Madaraka Day celebrations in Nyeri on Thursday.

Here are some of the odd things you will see on the train.

  • Language and translation

In most train services around the world, messages and announcements are routinely delivered in local languages with translations in English.

The SGR, though, has its oddities, messages in English have been translated partially into Kiswahili. For instance, 'Kituo Cha Mombasa Terminus' or 'Watoto Carriage' at the Mtito Andei station.

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Could someone have ignored local experts and chosen an Android translator app? We may never know but the Chinese are running the train so anything could be possible.

Also to note on language use, attendants on board are trained to speak in Chinese and English.

Train service crew in one of the coaches on May
Train service crew in one of the coaches on May 29, 2017. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

  • Locomotive drivers

As a way of making the train attractive, SGR operators have been training young Kenyans to drive the locomotive under their watch. The inaugural train that President Kenyatta will ride in will be driven by two young Kenyan women aged 27 and 23. They recently graduated from the Railways Training Institute.

Train drivers Elizabeth Wanjala (left) and
Train drivers Elizabeth Wanjala (left) and Shalom Njeri (centre) with their instructor Lu Zhili. PHOTO | PAULINE KAIRU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

  • No hawking

Kenyans used to travelling to the countryside by road know that they must stop in certain towns to buy roast maize, tea or meat. Sometimes hawkers are allowed into the buses to sell their wares.

On the SGR, it is a culture shock. Hawkers are not only banned on trains, they are also not allowed into stations.

  • No depositing tissue into toilet bowls

The SGR train may be a self-contained set of coaches where you can dine, sleep, read or wash up in bathrooms.

But that is mostly in the ideal. The toilets cannot flush away the dirt and they clog from time to time even with disposable tissue.

What is worse, there are no separate restrooms for gents and ladies, just toilets. So everyone must pray the deposited stuff flows away before the next passenger uses the toilet.

  • No opening windows

It moves like a car and behaves like a bus on a highway. But that is where similarities end. Passengers on buses may open windows but the SGR train has a strict policy not to try it. The train has windows, but attendants keep reminding passengers not to open them.

  • Distance to train stations

At a maximum speed of 120km per hour, the train can take about four hours to complete the 472km from Mombasa to the last stop in Nairobi - the Syokimau station. But how long will it take you to reach the city centre?

Probably another two hours, depending on traffic. The SGR is being launched to ease and speed up the movement of goods and services. But passengers will have to travel to the outskirts of their town centres to board them.

In Nairobi, the terminus is in Syokimau. In Mombasa, it is in Miritini, an isolated area near mangroves where the government has only recently started building roads.