Residents of Nairobi’s sprawling Eastlands will from Monday enjoy the services of a cheaper, safer and faster commuter transport to the city centre.
That dream will become a reality with the official opening of the newly-built Makadara Railway Station, which will serve as an interchange point for commuters plying the Syokimau-City Centre route.
City commuters, who board the refurbished trains from the Sh200 million Syokimau Railway Station, will have a chance to disembark at Makadara while those heading into town from Makadara will do so at a cost of Sh40.
The pricing of the estimated five kilometre journey should translate into huge savings for commuters in terms of fares paid to matatus and buses, and time lost in traffic congestion.
Matatus – Kenya’s commuter minibuses – charge at least Sh70 for the journey during rush hours and spend up to two hours to make the five kilometre journey.
The train will take an average of 20 minutes to cover the same distance. An efficient commuter train service should also help convince a significant fraction of private motorists to leave their cars home, ultimately decongesting Jogoo Road – one of Nairobi’s most congested roads.
“The train will make three trips a day from Syokimau to town and back,” said Alfred Matheka, the acting Kenya Railways Corporation managing director.
Mr Matheka promised that the corporation would adjust by three minutes the departure time for the train at Syokimau and that the stopovers would last three minutes at every station.
The newly-constructed station will be operated by Rift Valley Railways (RVR) — as part of a two-year concession deal with Kenya Railways — and will be the first station to be opened since last year’s commissioning of the Syokimau station.
The Makadara commuter train is part of a Sh26 billion ($300 million) urban railway plan that aims to raise the quality of public transport in the Kenyan capital and make it a world-class city.
KRC and InfraCo Group — the project’s technical advisers — are currently constructing a third station at Imara Daima along Mombasa Road at a cost of Sh250 million.
A final station is to be built on Nairobi’s Moi Avenue, completing a plan that is aimed at eliminating traffic jams in the city.
Plans are also under way to connect the Syokimau line with the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, offering air travellers an easier way to get to and from the city centre away from the traffic-heavy Mombasa Road.
While opening of the Makadara station will come as a relief to area residents, it may not return a profit to KRC – just like the Syokimau route which is marking its first anniversary in the loss-making territory.
KRC had estimated that six locomotives, making five round trips daily would transport approximately 20,000 passengers a day on the Syokimau route but this failed to materialise.
Mr Matheka now puts the estimates at just over a quarter of this with the round trip fare pegged at Sh100, having dropped by half from the introductory price of Sh200.
KRC admits that the fare it intends to charge at the Makadara interchange may just be enough to cover operation costs, but may not recoup the capital or make a profit.
“The railway project is not meant for profit, but to provide a service to Kenyans,” said Mr Matheka, adding that money collected from the service will go towards meeting the cost of operating the train.
“Other costs will be supplemented by funds from the government and real estate property that KRC owns across the country,” he said. Unlike the Syokimau and Imara Daima stations where passengers can park their cars and ride the train, the Makadara station will be a purely drop- and- pick station.
The station will have a parking area enough for just 150 vehicles. Passengers leaving their vehicles at the Syokimau station pay Sh100 for up to 10 hours.
Two weeks ago, KRC invited bids from those wishing to operate shops and restaurants at the Makadara and Imara Daima stations.
These new developments in Nairobi’s commuter transport come after years of neglect in investment that dates back to the 1940s. President Kenyatta last week launched the construction of a standard gauge railway line from Mombasa to Nairobi to be built at a cost of Sh609 billion.