Two days after President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the inaugural Nairobi-Suswa Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line on Wednesday, train service is off to an empty start.
According to a local media house that did a spot check, the trains are making round trips to Suswa while empty.
The train from Ngong station, for instance, had less than 15 passengers on all 4 carriages.
According to residents and commuters, the main challenge the commuter train faces are its proximity to the train station and the poor state of the access roads leading to it.
“The roads and the conditions that they are in have put us completely off from using the train,” said a Rongai resident.
One of the passengers we spoke to lamented about the connections to the train stations saying that it’s more expensive than using a matatu.
“Our biggest issue is the cost. This was supposed to make it easier for us to commute but now I have to pay more than Ksh.500…,” said another commuter.
The new route sits well beyond the basics of inter-city travel with train stations falling outside the target satellite towns.
Phase 2A of the railway line ends abruptly in a remote village away from civilization; drawing blunt headlines such as ‘Railroad to nowhere’.
A commute to Ongata Rongai town from the Nairobi CBD will for instance require one to first make their way down to the Syokimau Central Station.
This will extend the time taken on the already problematic route to the ‘diaspora’ town.
Passengers will also be forced to shoulder additional costs on last-mile connections to their destinations as all train stations fall outside major urban centers.
According to the schedules released by Kenya Railways, residents of Rongai will pay Ksh.100 to Syokimau before taking another train at Ksh.50 to The City Centre.
Notably, the Ksh.150 does not factor in the transport cost used to get to the train station.
From the look of things , the new line could be operating at a loss with minimal passenger numbers and a high cost of maintenance.