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Standard gauge railway passenger service resumes in Kenya

Updated:2020-07-14 16:22:11

A Kenya Railways staff member welcomes passengers onto the Madaraka Express train before it makes its first passenger trip after pandemic restrictions were lifted, on July 13, 2020. [Photo by Otiato Opali/]

Kenya's Standard gauge railway resumed passenger service on Monday morning, one week after President Uhuru Kenyatta relaxed measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

The train left Nairobi at 8 am with top government officials and managers from the Kenya Railways on hand to supervise the launch while ensuring safety guidelines issued by the ministries of Health and Transport are strictly adhered to.

Speaking at the Nairobi terminus during the resumption of services, Philip Mainga, the managing director at Kenya Railways, said the reopening follows the directive by the minister of Transport to have SGR passenger services resume after the cessation of movement into and out of Nairobi was lifted.

"We submitted our operation protocols to both the ministries of Health and Transport and received the necessary clearance. As you can see, we are observing high levels of sanitization and all passengers have to wash their hands and have their temperature checked before entering the station," Mainga said.

"In addition, we have clear markings to help people observe social distancing and our staff have been provided with special protective clothing because they will be with the passengers all the way to Mombasa," he added.

Mainga said that in observance of the social distancing guidelines, the train only carried 600 passengers at half capacity, with 10 coaches deployed, including eight economy coaches and two first-class coaches. An additional coach was set aside to be used to isolate passengers suspected to be infected with novel coronavirus.

Judith Kirimi, a passenger who had booked the first journey since the pandemic struck, said she was happy to be able to travel again but asked the railway's management to streamline the screening process to make it faster.

"It is understandable that being the first day of travel since coronavirus was announced, there would be some hiccups but they should ensure that washing hands and going through the corona checks does not consume a lot of time," Kirimi said.

Philip Mainga, the managing director at Kenya Railways, addresses the press at the Nairobi terminus during the resumption of passenger services, on July 13, 2020. [Photo by Otiato Opali/]

"I am a student and my family is in Mombasa and when the cessation of movement was announced, I could not travel back home; that is why I have taken advantage of this opportunity to go and be with my family," Kirimi said.

According to Mainga, sacrifices have to be made in the wake of the pandemic because a return to normalcy and full operations will have to be gradual.

"Despite being fully booked, we have to operate at half capacity and though it might be an economic disadvantage, it is better than having no services at all. In addition, our freight service has been running smoothly during the pandemic and that has somehow cushioned us against the economic effects of the virus," Mainga said.

Records from the Africa Star Railway Operation Co, the Chinese company that manages the railway, indicate that between Jan 1 and July 10 the railway had transported approximately 207,000 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs. This includes 5,063 TEUs of dangerous goods, 5,052 TEUs of grain and 90 TEUs of essential COVID-19 prevention materials, such as disinfectants, ethyl and alcohol.

Passenger services were suspended on April 7 after Kenyatta announced cessation of movement into and out of the Nairobi metropolitan area, Mombasa county and Mandera county.