In spite of teething problems, SGR remains a no-brainer

Sunday June 18 2017

By ABIGAIL ARUNGA
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After driving to Syokimau, we were then told we had to buy tickets the next day as we had been misinformed, and thus tickets for Saturday were bought on Thursday.

The music selection was good – not too loud and not too dedicated to one particular genre.

This was interesting to me because it felt like they were kicking us out of the station, though I'm not sure why.

On Saturday, me and my team from Ydowedoit decided to take a long-awaited trip to Watamu. The initial plan was to drive down, but if you’ve driven down to Mombasa before, you understand why I had a general reluctance towards that idea.

I had started looking at plane tickets and wincing about my wallet until someone suggested that we try taking the SGR down, seeing as it would have started running by the time we wanted to go.

I thought this was an excellent plan – it’s safer that the bus or driving, more comfortable, I would hope, and you only pay 700 one way. What could possibly go wrong?

A couple of things, to start with. To be fair, let me say early on, that the trip was generally good. We just happened to travel at the beginning, when teething problems are still being worked through.

For example, when we would try to call the numbers listed for their helplines on the first day of its commencement, none of them were working. So we tried to call the next day.

TAKING PICTURES

When we finally got through, we were informed that we could buy the tickets five days prior to our journey. Since there was no Mpesa or credit card service, we decided to go to the station itself to buy tickets.

After driving to Syokimau, we were then told we had to buy tickets the next day as we had been misinformed. Thus tickets for Saturday were bought on Thursday.

There seems to be a lot of miscommunication involved. Security stopped us for taking pictures near them, which is understandable, but also for carrying what we had confirmed earlier we were allowed to carry, our own beverages.

Eventually we got on the train, with a quick and organised ticket checking system – though Kenyans need to start figuring out how to line up instead of moving en masse, as an overwhelming crowd.

Economy class may be a bad idea if you have long legs, but if that’s the problem, you need to sit at the end of your row. Now, unfortunately, you can’t pick your seat in relation to your aisle just yet, which we hope will change.

The ride was uneventful in an impressive way – the train started on time, and it was clean, maybe also because of all the announcements they kept making on no littering and keeping the train clean. I hope they manage to maintain the train in this vein.

KICKING US OUT

The music selection was good – not too loud and not too dedicated to one particular genre. The staff were pleasant and clean, including the staff at every station that we stopped at who had to salute the train as we passed by – both Chinese and Kenyan.

It was nice to be able to get on a train through the Tsavo national parks as well, with the animals far enough away to not be bothered by our passage.

We also need to do better at how we leave bathrooms looking; they weren’t too bad, but there is room for improvement. At least there were no smells but the floor was wet, which leads to a small mess outside the bathroom and near the seats adjacent to it.

Make sure you keep your ticket until the end of your journey because they’ll ask you for it on the other side, and make haste because they close the gates out of the train station quite quickly.

This was interesting to me because it felt like they were kicking us out of the station, though I'm not sure why. As a result, there are not really any shops on the platform - just functional gates and bathrooms, and no one else except staff and exiting passengers.

PANIC CONTROL

Even when you get to the outside of the stations, from what I saw, the other one being Mtito Andei, security will chase you away from the direct entrances to the terminals. Then there's the road out of Miritini into the CBD itself, which is arduous and incomplete at best.

It's a good idea to organise transport from the stations, although there are some buses outside that will take you where you need to go at a fee.

I’m waiting to save enough for a first-class ticket and see if there are any differences in that car. But so far, the chances that I’ll be taking a bus to Mombasa again are quite slim. Definitely not when there's a cheaper, faster, more affordable and less dangerous option.

I've driven down to the Coast before so I know what I'm saying when I say it is a lesson in panic control. Now imagine taking only four and a half hours with no cops, no speed guns, no menacing trailers and a road so smooth you don't even notice how fast you're going.

In spite of all of the little problems I mentioned above, the train is a no-brainer.

Twitter: @AbigailArunga