Hello there, and welcome to my very own experience and insight into the whole SGR debacle. Yes, that is the word I choose, and you will see why shortly. Now I’m sure you’ve already seen a post or two, or people’s social media accounts of their experience, and in my case the common premise was that the train ride itself was amazing, but everything else surrounding it was not.
So what exactly does this mean? Well honey, let’s just get right into it. First of all just getting the tickets themselves was a nightmare the very first time we attempted to because my sisters and I had wanted to use it to go to Mombasa. Guess what? We ended up using the bus. So I won’t even waste your time tryna explain any of this. Instead, I shall leave you with screenshots of my frustrations the morning I tried to get the tickets:
That being said however, we are not ones to give up, so on our way back from shagz we decided to try it one more time. Of course we were a bit wiser this time and got one of my cousin’s friends who works at the Miritini station to get us the tickets so we wouldn’t have to go all the way there to queue and pay.
Fast forward to the eve before and it’s excitement galore as we check Google Maps and it tells us the train station is just one and a half hours away from our location somewhere in the middle of Kilifi county. We therefore leave at 0630 HRS in the morning so we can get to the station by at least 0800 HRS coz I had read online that the doors to the train close at 0850 HRS.
But dude, the train station is in Miritini, where most freight companies are situated. Translation? Too many lorries on the narrow roads in that area, therefore tonnes of traffic. So if you’re coming from Kilifi and the likes, perhaps approaching the station from Kaloleni would be a better idea. Oh, and the bumps on that road are hella massive and quite sharp. In short if you’ve carried five people in the car plus luggage, all the best navigating the same.
Fast forward to when we finally get to the train station (at 0805 HRS), and unfortunately there is a massive queue of both cars and people. Now it is important to note that some matatus and shuttles are kind enough to drop you right inside the station, but most will drop you on top of the hill and you’ll have to walk all the way down into the station. There were also motorbikes parked on top of the hill but I didn’t see anyone use them to the station itself. And guys, it’s quite the distance from the top of the hill to the station as per the below pics which we tried to take as we descended:
Next on this journey to the station was of course the security check-in’s and boy weren’t they a couple! First things first you are required to place your luggage on the floor in a straight line and queue next to it so sniffer dogs can sniff around all of it. Then you are required to run your bags through the x-ray machine thingy while simultaneously being body searched before you get into the station’s waiting area. At this point it is once again important to note that sharp objects are not allowed onto the train so ladies if there is a manicure set in your purse with a pair of scissors in it please be ready to throw it out. Once the body search and x-ray machine search are done you are required to have a security guard physically search your bags again (if there were any sharp objects in any of your bags as per the x-ray) so as to determine what the objects in question are and whether you can keep them or not). If there are no sharp objects in any of your luggage as per the x-ray check-in then you move onto the next check in.
At this point you are required to show the security guard both your ticket and identification documents (I guess after we complained about the tickets not having your name on them they decided to change this). In fact here is a picture of the new ticket (they misspelt my name and wrote the wrong ID number on my sister’s but oh well):
Once the guard lets you through you’ve to have your luggage scanned yet again, then go through another body search before going up two flights of stairs into either the waiting bay (if you’re early) or straight to the last check-in before boarding the train (if you’re late). Now there are elevators at the station, but we were told that they had been reserved for first class passengers. We were late, so we used the escalators instead but please note that there are officials positioned there to ensure that people get on them just one at a time.
We finally got to the last check in (or so we thought) whereby we were advised to have our tickets and identification documents in hand once more. We were then to scan the bar codes on our tickets at the entrance so the metal thingy would let you in. Once in we were instructed to go into our respective coach numbers, at which point your tickets and identification are checked one last time before finally boarding the train. Now my dears please remember that the doors to the train close at 0850 HRS and if you aren’t in the train by then then honey you will be left behind. Just ask the lady sitting next to us whose friend had been left behind in the security check-in shenanigans the day before.
Dude let me just tell you knowing all this info, I must say that I have never in my life been so relieved to get somewhere as I was when I finally sat myself down in that train. See I was travelling with my two sisters and my mum, and each of us had like two bags so you can imagine the amount of gym money we all saved from just that experience. In fact by the time we boarded the train we were so tired and frustrated none of us took any of those ‘uuuu, first time on a train, tembea Kenya, local tourism manenoz’ pics. We were just over it yaani.
Okay so the train ride starts and the AC is already on and set just right so we chill and after about an hour of no music we decide to bring out the blue tooth speaker and turn up lol. Enhe, excitement manenoz until the announcement is made that we will reach Nairobi at 1415 HRS, and it’s only like 1000 HRS. It was also explained that this was because the train would stop at Voi for 6 minutes, then Mtito Andei for 3 minutes (or vice versa- I wasn’t really paying attention) so that those who had reached their destinations could get off and those that had booked from there could board (I think). Oh Lawd!
Anyway, we sit tight and begin to pay attention to what’s in the train and stuff. Okay so there are loos on the train, and this little thingy at both ends of the coach gives you all the info you need, that is, the time, the temperature outside, the current speed the train is moving at, and whether the loos are occupied (there are two loos in each coach, one on each end; green means the loo is vacant, red means it is engaged).
Onto the speed then: So the lowest our train did was 51 km/hr, while the highest was 116 km/h, which means that the damn thing moves at an average speed of 80 km/h. So for us who left Kilifi at 0630 HRS and got to Nairobi at 1415 HRS, I think it makes more sense to have driven all the way, or take the night bus. And oh yeah, the seats aren’t so comfortable and are also quite tiny, except for first class where they are bigger, more comfy, and can recline. Also, the capacity of the second class coach is 118 people, while that of the first class ones is 71. Now other than the comfort-ability of the seats, there is nothing else in first class (yet the ticket is KES 3,000/=) because they don’t even get snacks for free or anything.
So you are allowed to carry snacks on the train but alcoholic drinks are not allowed (I think) and you are definitely not allowed to smoke. For those of us who didn’t remember to carry snacks there were snacks for sale on the train, sold by NAS Servair which means the prices ranged from KES 100/= for the: 500 ml water, 250 ml Pick ‘N Peel juice, 40g packet of Krackles crisps, a croissant, a muffin, to KES 250/= for the sandwiches (beef, cheese, and chicken) and I think beers. Yep! They sell canned beers, but I can’t remember the pricing. I think I also heard someone order like rice and chicken drumsticks or something, but I didn’t see this on the menu.
So fast forward to the end of the ride and no one will tell you this, but when you get to your destination you still need to scan your ticket so you can exit the waiting area of the station, after you get off the train. So all of us who still had our tickets in our pockets as some sort of souvenirs were able to exit quite seamlessly but for those who trashed the tickets it was not so fun as you had to get an official to help you out.
So long story short? I am not doing this again because my main motivation was that I had never been on a train before, and that I had never seen an elephant before (ah ah don’t judge me I am also yet to see a lion). So now I’ve done both (yep, you’ll see elephants (and zebras) on the way if you are keen).
My final verdict is if you have to do this be prepared for the ticketing and security check-in hustles, carry only a backpack (as in travel light and carry snacks), and do this with your funniest friends so you aren’t bored during the ride. Also, I wouldn’t pay for a first class ticket. I am just too frugal and would rather top up that KES 1,000/= and use Jambo Jet. And if you are heading to South Coast and intend on using this to come back to Nairobi, please find some place in town or in North Coast to sleep on the night before you travel, so you can reach the station on time.
Oh yeah, they’ve an Android app on the Google Play Store, but when we tried to use it it kept saying ‘there are no tickets available’ no matter what date we input. In fact the only thing it did superbly was calculate fares.
NB: Because the train’s last stop is Miritini, there are shuttles that take you to Mombasa town from the station, but I did not ask for the pricing, although I heard someone say it costs KES 100/=.