Sometimes the only way to fully grasp the gravity of a situation is to be put smack in the middle of the said situation. For me, this was traveling with a baby. Sure, we’ve had short trips, 3 hours max, this though counting from the departure point my house in Nairobi to the destination point in Mombasa was an overwhelming 9 hours. 6 hours out of this were on the SGR. The other 3 were traffic and waiting time. The journey back took just about the same amount of time.
So how was it?
Accessibility (1 out of 5 stars)
On the day before our trip, since we were to leave on the morning inter-county train that leaves at 8, I call Kenya Railways to find out if there was a train going from town to the Syokimau station. The lady on the other side informs me that the train is no longer available. So we make other arrangements to get to the station only to find out once we get there that the train is actually in operation. Anyway, we find our way via road to the SGR station at Syokimau. Two takeaways, if you are driving or using a cab that early, please account for traffic on Mombasa road for cars heading to the CBD, you may waste a lot of time in that short distance after you turn into that side of the road. If you are using Public means, coming down from the CBD side of the road, it may be a bit tricky as you’ll have to cross the road and there’s no footbridge. Once you cross, the distance from the road to the station is not that short and you may consider getting on a boda-boda (nduthi). In both cases, tricky if it’s raining.
At the Coast, the train stops at Miritini and you have to find your way into the CBD. On the upside, there are a number of matatus and cabs available within the station’s parking lot to help you get into town. Traffic on the in-roads is challenging though.
Procedures (2 out of 5 stars)
The ability to book online is a plus, inability to choose your seat is a minus. The ability to self-print the ticket at the station is also a plus. The security checks could be done a lot more efficiently as you could easily be left behind during the checks especially if you are cutting it really close. Which is quite possible thanks to city traffic despite your best planning.
There’s priority boarding for disabled persons, pregnant women, and persons with infants. This is a huge plus on their side. I really have to commend them on this.
Comfort (2.5 out of 5 stars)
The seats are very, very uncomfortable. The closest I can compare it to is sitting on a wooden bench with a stiff 90 degree angled back. Even those of us with natural ‘cushioning’ suffered while seating. You have to constantly stand and stretch your legs to at least get some comfort. The leg room in the economy coaches is so minimal that if you are tall you’ll definitely get an intimate leg bonding session with the person seated across you.
An advantage is that at the train movements are so smooth which allows for one to move up and down the aisle. With a child who only keeps still when he’s awake, this is very welcome to stop overly inconveniencing fellow passengers.
The aircon on the train is a pleasant addition especially when you get to the hotter areas of the journey.
Customer service (3 out of 5 stars)
The staff is not consistent with customer service. Some are extremely courteous, polite, friendly and helpful. Some come off as bossy and rude. The speed of service delivery is also dependent on the staff in question, some go out of their way to offer smooth service and others just seem to be unbothered.
Frequency (2 out of 5 stars)
There are two departure times from both Syokimau and Miritini daily. Departure times are 8.00AM and 2:30 PM from Syokimau 7:15AM and 3:15 PM from Miritini. The morning trains are intercounty and take 6 hrs the afternoon/evening trains are express and take 5 hrs. The SGR clock is about 3 minutes ahead, so please adjust accordingly if you traveling as the door close 5 minutes to departure. I wish there were night-trains for those who cannot manage day travel especially with the on-again and off-again night road travel ban. Assuming there’s capability, I wish the frequency could allow for business travelers who wish to travel either way and return the same day. Maybe a departure time very early in the morning and another very late in the evening.
Overall, I would rate the SGR system as a 2 out of 5. I am glad I got to experience it as this was my inaugural train ride. However, I am unlikely to use it again in favor of other ways to get to the Coast especially with my baby in tow.
As a side note, I feel that coughing up more than four times the economy fare should get you more than a bigger seat and charging stations, no?
What’s your experience with the SGR?