If you have not been on the new SGR train then you need to put it on your Bucketlist! I traveled on the train on June 3rd which was its 3rd day of commercial operations and I must say it was a proudly Kenyan moment for us. Of course the 9am departure was too early for someone coming from holiday and especially from the South coast. We had to pack the night before as we had to wake up by 445am to be ready for a 5:30am departure, with a ferry crossing one needed enough time just in case…
The train station is very far from central Mombasa and one of the nightmares to the station is the terrible traffic on that road. We had to use a back rough route to avoid the traffic. All the same we arrived the station at 8am which left us with a good 45 minutes before check in closes. Allow me to back track, we had been told 2 days earlier that train tickets had to be bought cash and only at the station. So we had to send at mainland Mombasa to go and buy the tickets ahead of time. This has since changed as you can now buy the tickets via mpesa.
Fast forward; on entering the station there was a thorough security check but very bad customer service. Since we had left the hotel very early we had packed breakfast and they insisted on taking the food through the security machine and in the process broke a bottle of water. An interesting observation the guards from a local company could speak Chinese as they communicated with the security in charge who was Chinese. In my opinion is should be the other way round, we are an English speaking country and so the Chinese should have been the ones to learn our language, buts just me!!
After the nasty security check we were met by some very professional and well-dressed(in our Kenyan flag colours) customer service agents whose responsibility was to direct passengers to the transit lounge which was on the first floor. On arrival at the transit lounge I was pleasantly surprised to note there were enough seats for all, it was very spacious and airy. Only there was no separate lounge for the first class passengers, I believe that should change in the coming months. The toilets in that area on that day were clean with someone on standby to maintain the status quo.
At exactly 8:30am the call to board was made, point to note is you have to keep your ticket safe throughout the journey as it’s also the same ticket that lets you out of the station on arrival at your destination. Once done with check-in one walks about 500m to the train. As you get to the train one is warmly welcomed by the train pursers who direct you to your respective cabin. Then, the train was really empty unlike these days it’s almost always at full capacity. We had first class tickets, the train has 4 first class cabin each with 66-72 seats, 10 economy class cabins each with 118 seats and 1 restaurant cabin which is not yet operational.
For this issue I will focus on the first class cabin; it’s very spacious, seats are adjustable to attain a reclined seating position, seats can rotate up to 180 degrees and there are power charging points. You also get drinking water and a snack during the train ride. Being a totally new Kenyan experience we had so many questions for the train pursers and the patiently and politely answered them all plus pose for photos!!! The train leaves exactly on time, there are subtle announcements of stations along the way as well as the views and wild animals were also pointed out as sighted. The ride is very smooth and silent.
Nairobi and Mombasa are now just 4.5hrs away thanks to Madaraka Express.!!