SGR KENYA: 10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOUR TRIP
On 1st June 2017, history was made in the Kenyan transport sector. Members of the public would get to board the first Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) train in the country.
Whereas the project has received mixed reactions mainly because of its enormous financial impact (The SGR is the most expensive infrastructure project so far), it is undeniable that millions of Kenyans on this day were still excited about the launch. The SGR is the second ‘biggest’ project by the Jubilee government after Huduma Kenya. Kenya is still a developing country and it was enticing to see this project in its actuality.
Many were eager to see this ‘magical’ train that was supposed to be super fast, super comfortable and very affordable as compared to the other means of transport i.e. bus and plane. With the train at full capacity (1200 passengers), the President flagged off the trip and was on the train as well, which was travelling from Mombasa to Nairobi.
The next few months would see a lot of chatter about the SGR. Social media went berserk; almost everyone was boarding the train even some were out of spontaneity and why not? Contrary to most of my friends and family, almost 2 years later is when I would finally get to board the SGR for a planned trip to the Coast on a December vacation. Better late than never, right? I came up with this little list of important things that most people may have failed to tell you if you’re a first-timer on the SGR train AKA the Madaraka Express.
Let’s get to it.
There are two ways you can make an SGR booking; online through their website or via physical purchase of tickets at any of the two termini. I actually found the online booking procedures quite efficient. At the click of a button, you can secure your booking and make your payment via MPESA.
On the Madaraka Express website, there are two train types; Inter-county and Express. The Inter-county train makes all possible stops before arriving as opposed to the Express train which has no in-between stop. Select the terminus and then the departure date and select ‘Book a Train‘. The site notifies you if there are seats available for your trip or if they are fully booked.
The SGR rates are as follows: First class passengers pay Kes. 3000 per adult and kids (Ages 3-11) pay half. Second class passengers pay Kes. 1000 per adult and kids pay half.
The good thing about online booking is that you can make bulk booking and payment for a group of people provided that in the case of adults, you enter their full names and ID/Passport numbers. Please note that if you’re a group and you want to be assigned adjacent seats, let one person do the group booking.
A reference number is provided after successful booking for use with MPESA to secure the booking.
Note: After booking, you’re given a short window period to pay (Last I checked, 5 minutes) or else your booking will be discarded. Please remember that one booking only guarantees you a one-way ticket.
Also, cancellation of a booking attracts a fine and all refunds must be claimed physically at the terminus.
In addition to showing you the available booking dates, the website will display which train is available as well. It’s important to note that only the inter-county train travels in the morning and night*. Only the express train leaves in the afternoon.
The morning (inter-county) train leaves Nairobi terminus heading to Mombasa at around 8:20 AM, expected to arrive at around 2:20 PM. From Mombasa heading to Nairobi, it leaves at 8 AM, expected to arrive at around 1:45 PM.
The afternoon (express) train leaves Nairobi terminus heading to Mombasa at around 2:30 PM, expected to arrive at around 7:20 PM. From Mombasa heading to Nairobi, it leaves at 3:15 PM, expected to arrive at around 8:15 PM.
*On 5th January 2021, Kenya Railways introduced a night (inter-county) train that leaves either stations at 9:00 PM.
The SGR train averages a speed of 120Km/h and thus why the express train takes a maximum of 5 hours while the morning train takes around 6 hours to get you to your destination. This isn’t falsely advertised.
The exact departure times will be displayed as you make your booking and hence may vary a little, as a personal principle, I advocate you be at the station at least 1 hour in advance to avoid last minute inconveniences.
Nairobi Terminus Location
This is something I find important because some people don’t actually know this. The SGR terminus is actually in Syokimau and not in the Nairobi CBD. While planning your trip, it is important to consider how you are going to get there. Most people prefer hailing cabs or having someone drop you off because even if using public transport, accessing the terminus is quite a hustle from Mombasa Road, worse because you will probably have luggage. I advise the use of Google Maps if you have no clue where Syokimau is.
Security is paramount.
It was great to see several checkpoints and manned entrances and exits within both termini. The askaris seem to do their job quite efficiently and with good reason for such a place. Quite frankly, it’s like walking into an airport. Armed guards, security barriers, luggage checks by dogs, document verification, the works. They also have a strict rule against admission without proper identification, so carry your physical National ID card/Passport.
Check out this document for an extensive rules and regulations reference. *Kindly note that as a passenger, all COVID-19 safety measures should be observed at all times.
Sidenote: I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed that they should get younger sniffer dogs😔.
No Alcoholic Beverages Allowed
As it so happens, while travelling via the SGR train, you won’t be allowed to travel with any form of alcohol. Don’t try to smuggle some in either, the guards at the screening machines will single you out quicker than you can blink.
Here’s another catch, if your bottle is sealed, you can go ahead and register it with the security desk to pick when you return from your trip (if it is not a long trip anyway). Otherwise, they don’t accept unsealed bottles/cans. You can be rebellious like this woman in China who gulped down an entire $200 bottle of Rémy Martin cognac as opposed to surrendering it to the security officers.
Can’t be that hard… can it?
Thou shan’t despair; they do serve beer inside the SGR, if you really need a quench.
Food & Drinks
I would advise you to carry your own meals, snacks and drinks from home since it’s not restricted. Reason being, they are quite overpriced in both termini. You don’t get quite a variety of snacks in the mini kiosks and to be honest they aren’t even that good. Despite there being a few restaurants within the Nairobi terminus, I don’t think you’d want to have to wait for a pizza to be ready as you wait for your train, right?
Personally, I like to eat light when I travel. I don’t try out food joints before I travel and y’all know why that can be dangerous. So it’s probably safest to carry your own packed snacks/food. On-board the train, they do have a small menu but again, limited variety and the only thing that got my attention is the Kes. 250 double-slice meat sandwich. Meh.
Seats & Luggage Placement
Disclaimer: Since I’ve only travelled second class, I have zero information about first class seating and luggage.
The seats are generally comfortable and the leg room is okay. One side has a two-seater and another has a three-seater. The seat numbers are labelled and cannot be predetermined during booking like you would in a movie theatre. It’s hella uncomfortable for the guy in the middle of the three-seater. I don’t know how guys sleep in these seats.
Maybe carry a neck pillow I don’t know… ‘perks’ of boarding second class I guess.
The Madaraka Express train allows a maximum luggage weight of 30Kg. They also require that your bags be less than half a metre in length. The coaches have a top carrier just above the seats and a bit of luggage space under the seats. One person can comfortably carry two luggage bags which I think is more than enough. You can also get lucky if the other passengers are travelling lightly. There are several announcements before departure and an attendant who comes to check the coach for loose lying luggage etcetera, standard stuff.
Clean, well-maintained, not much talking here. You’ll be disposing tissues in a separate bin and not flushing. What? Yes. Check this out.
Scenery & Wildlife
Who doesn’t love watching antelopes trotting about and elephants grazing in all their glory?
That is what is presented as you near the Tsavo National park where the SGR railway cuts through. It’s quite a good scene. Majestic giraffes and zebras minding their own business unbeknownst to them the “uuus” and the “aaas” from the humans watching them.
Mombasa Terminus Location
This can be confusing for the newbies; the Mombasa Terminus is located in Miritini and not in Mombasa town. Miritini is around 11Km from Mombasa town, so it’s important to keep this in mind.
You can see how this can be a bit of a hustle, especially if you will not be residing in Mombasa area and you need to cross the Likoni Ferry or fly/drive to Malindi.
Many travel companies provide transport services from the terminus to your destination and there are some private taxis, minivans and matatus too that you can get at somewhat reasonable costs. I hear hailing an Uber or any other online cab can be quite expensive and a bit of a drag. So if you’re travelling on a budget it’s good to set some money aside for the ride.
I’d like to hear your own experiences on the SGR trip, the good, bad and the ugly. Did I miss something?
Do share below!