Madaraka Express – NBO-MSA-NBO.

9th Mar 2021

So I've never taken the Madaraka Express ever since it was launched. I just imagined it to be too much hype with speed of 80kph which makes the journey by road shorter (if using a personal car) or similar if using a PSV. As Kenyans, many of us felt short-changed when we imagined we were to get an electric high-speed train especially given the ridiculous amount of money we borrowed to build the SGR. But I divert into these murky politics.
Back to our trip from Nairobi to Mombasa as a family. My troop has never been on a train. My memories of train rides go back decades ago as a young child travelling all the way from Mombasa to Nairobi with my 7 siblings and mom enroute to our Western home for the holidays. Being from a peasant family, she could only afford 3rd class carriage and we would all hurdle together for the long journey into the city. It made for a memorable ride and at that age I didn't think much of luxuries like having a seat to yourself.
Anyway, a couple of weeks back, a friend offered his furnished apartment in Nyali for us at our disposal. Having gone through a scary experience as a family, he thought it would be great to have the kids have a break from it all. Who am I to turn down such gracious offers! We discussed as a family (we usually have real board meetings including voting!) and agreed on our mode of transport, the train. So off I went seeking feedback from those who had experienced the Madaraka Express post Covid19 (a lot has changed in the way we do things). Armed with sufficient information, I settled on using the train. Option B was to drive down and Nyamalo was in tip top position for that.
So on booking tickets: one has to dial *639# and follow instructions. What they don't tell you is that the train can only be booked within a 5 day window period before travel. Otherwise it gives you an "No train available" response. The website has no such information so it took my queries on social media to get this feedback from my circle of friends. A phone number is provided on the sms platform and you can call to get your queries sorted. But really, it doesn't take much to put this information on the website too.
The booking and payment process is pretty simple. I was booking for 5 pax. One can only book up to a maximum 10pax. You have to key in bio data for each traveller. Children under 12 travel at half price. The options are First class at 3000Ksh and Economy at 1000Ksh. You then pay via Mpesa (least painful method) and get an alert on your ticket number and ticket code. Keep this message as you shall need it to get the tickets printed at the train station.
So the day of departure, I had organised a pick up from the car hire company I used for my whole trip. The troop were quite excited that night so an early morning was easy for them. I was told to give it two hours for security checks and such. So we arrived at the Syokimau Terminus by 6.30am.
Security checks are thorough. From the entry into the car park, then lining up your luggage for dog sniffing (two dogs were used). Then all the luggage is taken through the screening machines in two different places. There is security all around and even in the coaches, we travelled with armed police.
What I didn't like was all the walking and hauling of luggage up staircases. I shudder to think of those with heavy luggage or those who are disabled. I understand the lifts have been turned off so we all have to use several flights of stairs to access the departure lounge. They also have washing basins, sanitisers and temperature checks as well as clearly marked spaces of where to seat and how far apart to stand from each other. The scanning machines have been disabled too so one walks right through to the train and out to the terminus once you arrive. The ticketing process was quite efficient as you only have to supply the details of the message you received while booking.
I booked First Class coach. The seats are comfortable and can recline though a very narrow angle. We were able to readjust them so we could sit as a family facing each other. Otherwise, with the Covid-19 measures, passengers are booked on every other seat. The departure was right on time. 0759hrs and the train stopped at exactly 1245hrs as predicted. No food is sold in the coaches so carry your own if you can. A restaurant within the departure bay sells takeaway food just in case you forgot. The prices are modest though. The washrooms in the train (First Class coach) were clean and regularly serviced. They are only operated when the train is on the move so empty your bladder before boarding as it can be a whole hour's wait inside the train depending on when you boarded.
While on the move, there are regular security checks by patrolling policemen. The cabin crew also remind you of safety features especially those related to the pandemic measures. The view along the way is fantastic and the gentle chug of the train soon sends many to sleep. While passing Tsavo National park we did see quite a number of elephants and a couple of other odd animals here and there.
Arrival at Mombasa Terminus was uneventful. Once again take into consideration staircases and a considerable walk to the parking bay that can be a hindrance to those with reduced mobility. There are a number of cabs available for use since public transport is not allowed. It helps when you have prearranged transport since the prices at the terminus can be exorbitant.
The train only makes the 8am trip to Mombasa and the 1.30pm trip back to Nairobi unlike before where the services were twice in a day for each trip.
Overall, we enjoyed our ride. The tribe voted for a return trip on same train. Amakove rating 6/10. 4 marks lost for the accessibility challenges.
Kenya Railways


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