Guest Blogger, Levi Kones
So the wife and I finally did the SGR to and from the coast.
Always been curious and wanted to know what it would really entail and if you have never used it this post is for your information
The online booking is horrendous, you call a number then they are supposed to check for you availability of seats then give you the Mpesa no to pay and you get your seat.
Well?? They have one no for booking. One booking no for a train that carries 1200 people!!
Modern coast has a better online booking system. They could use some tips.
Small wonder it never gets through and I had to get my friend Lukase Libs to get me the tickets.
He does this as a business by the way, so if you need tickets,get him, and he’ll deliver them to you personally at a good fee.(bongo la biashara things)….oh and you need to get your tickets 3 days before you travel. Those trains do get full!
So I get my tickets and travel day was last Thursday..
I had been warned time and again about the punctuality of the train so we left home early and got to the train station by 7.30am. You must pay attention to time taken in traffic or you will certainly get late..
Arrival at the Nbi Terminus is met by police at the main entrance who your uber or cab guy must tell he is dropping you and leaving or he will get busted as leaves for obstruction 😉.
You arrive to crazy lines at the first gate, show you ticket…etc..security checks are done and you then proceed to the second one…same story and then you get through the third check and you’re in. Security is tight. Here they get an A.
However,there are ticket scalpers at the termini. Corruption has already found its way in and you can buy a 700kshs ticket at 1K from some security guys there.
You won’t know them unless you look confused and dejected. Then they will approach you with the offer. Plus there are other “enterprising” Kenyans who buy tickets in bulk and resell at a higher fee. Here they need to get their act together and use ID’s for booking..it will nip this nonsense in the bud.
Once ushered into the termini there are “special” chairs for the first class guys…if special is anything, it’s basically just sit on the other end of the hall.
The restrooms are good but have no water so you either wait till the train gets here or brace yourself for a majengo experience.
There’s a lady on the intercom who keeps saying “sit down people” after every 3 minutes as Kenyans high five and pass salams to each other(my luhya people have really infected us with this).
At 8.15am she announces boarding will start, First Class first,then children and second class guys or economy. We’re here so we’re still chilling as Kenyans in droves storm the gates as if the train will leave them.
We watch this mass migration in bemusement, then go through the gates and down the staircase (avoiding the escalator) because there’s another mass migration there and onto the ramps.
The madaraka express is there, in all its glory. There’s however not a single writing indicating it’s the madaraka express.
Oh and those chinese/Swahili signages we laughed about seem to be nowhere in sight too.
So we board. Coach 11 seats no 112/113, they’re on two opposite sides but hey….we’re on the train!! Good online booking would have put us next to each other.
Pre take off checklists are done,doors closed and we’re on our way!!
The staff are as smart as they look, and they are friendly too.
A voice comes on the intercom welcoming us aboard….I laugh out loud….she sounds…well Chinese!! But is speaking English with a Chinese intonation!! I die!! Aki si we just be original like Naijas. “A beg, the train be na leaving oh, hold on or fall like the sigiri bridge o”) or something…
There’s a group of mamas travelling in my coach, loud,boisterous shady individuals excited about everything including the steward coming down with a trolley down the aisle to serve passengers. This train is very popular with groups so if you like silence,book first class or bring your earphones.
The coach is air conditioned, plays really good background music but the chairs in economy are stiff and unfriendly. You can’t lean back, but you can walk around the train every so often to ease your discomfort.
The menu for the catering by NAS is also not a friendly one. Tea and coffee at 100 and mandazis for 100. Even an empty plastic cup is 100!!
Those “frequent fliers” however have circumvented this by carrying their own food so pretty soon the coach is smelling of all kinds of things…. ndumas here,ndaos there,etc.
There are vacuum toilets on board. Very clean and pleasant.
There’s no Wi-Fi or charging sockets( these are first class preserves I hear). The train moves at a deceivingly “slow” speed to the eye, and although there are readings showing the speeds averaging between 110-120 you will not really know how fast it moves until you stop at mtito andei to let the other train “whoosh” past. In less than half a minute it bypassed us as it headed to Nbi.
There are some really friendly armed policemen on board who do periodic patrols up and down the coaches.
I walk up to first class to take a look at what I’m missing.
First Class has nice cushy larger seats which can swivel(I hear,but I observe they’re all facing forward) and can be adjusted to snooze,sockets for charging and….that’s it.
They have a restaurant which you have to go to to order your meal and eat. It’s self service so you must line up but the menu is the same as the economy.
Infact, economy have it better because they’re served!!
Oh and there’s no Wi-Fi in first Class too….ha!
And its miserable,full of quiet snobbish types.
If the party is in economy,this is where it comes to die!
I’m guessing maybe it’s coz of the chairs facing each other, or that you can’t get comfy and sleep but people in economy talk a lot and there’s a lot of laughter there. Want fun? Wachana na first Class. For its 3K price, either book a flight early or add a few thousand and fly.
Meanwhile the train is blazing through the Tsavo, home of the largest herds of jumbos in Kenya.
Soon you can see them and this is when you realize you have gotten a game drive in a journey which makes everything worth it,plus it overlaps many many times with the highway as if to give you a glimpse of what you are not missing as you see buses crawling their way to msa and back.
Refreshments are served and both alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks are on offer.
And you can pay by Mpesa.
It arrives smack on time four and a half hours later at Miritini and mass hurried migration out begins as if people were sitting on pins.
The only downside is that upon arrival you suddenly leave the SGR for a horrible road into the city of Msa laden with potholes and trucks blocking the highway.
Matatus to town are 100kshs. Vans are 200 per person and the taxis start from 1500kshs.
They could do better with the transition.
Oh and you better keep your ticket to the end,or you won’t leave the station.
The return journey is much the same except for a much more lax security check in at Msa(only one check?you’d think they’d be like 5) and that the arrival in Nairobi is very pleasant as there’s all manner of transportation available including a commuter train at hand to take you to the CBD with stops at Imara Daima and Makadara.
Thanks to its speed though. We got off and still drove all the way to Turbo and arrived by early nightfall.
Oh and some enterprising shuttle services have put vans directly to Eldoret from the Nairobi terminus through the langata bypass!!
Unfortunately the ticket scalpers are at Mombasa too and one wonders why the SGR cannot have offices in the CBD of Nairobi and Msa to spare people the trips to Miritini and Syokimau stations to buy the tickets.
But then again, guys like my buddy Lukase would be out of business.
Oh and get a customer service desk guys!! It’s the least you could do.
But the BEST thing about the SGR? The time keeping. The Chinese are plunging deep daggers into this thing called Kenyan time.
Arrive on time or get left!!
Overall experience 7/10
Very much worth a try.
Levi Kones is a guest blogger at Herald, A Tv anchor at Kass TV International and a journalist.