Wycliffe Otiso used to marvel at the sight of an old cargo train snaking through the hillsides near his farming village in western Kenya and at a tender age nursed a desire to become a locomotive driver.
The 30-year-old electrical engineering major was awarded a certificate on Friday to become a locomotive driver by the operator of the Nairobi-Mombasa Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) commuter service after months of intensive training and probation.
Otiso was among the first batch of Kenyan youth recruited by the operator to undergo an intensive course that would pave the way for them to become qualified locomotive drivers.
"I became an assistant locomotive driver in 2017, shortly after the SGR passenger train was inaugurated and later, in November 2018, began a training program to become a junior driver," Otiso told Xinhua on the sidelines of an event to celebrate second anniversary since the launch of SGR commuter service.
Eleven young Kenyans were awarded certificates to become full-time locomotive drivers as the SGR operator presses ahead with localization of its key operations.
Otiso said he was confident to steer the modern train that operates along the 480 km railway linking Kenyan capital Nairobi to the port city of Mombasa.
"I am proud to be the pioneer group of Kenyans who will be privileged to steer the SGR cargo train after undergoing intensive training and mentorship," he said.
"The cargo train... is very sophisticated in terms of engineering and driving it will be a thrilling experience," Otiso added.
Otiso and his 10 colleagues are beneficiaries of a skills transfer and mentorship program supported by the operator of the SGR commuter service, which has transported more than 3 million passengers since its launch two years ago.
James Macharia, cabinet secretary for transport and infrastructure, praised the training of local youth on advanced railway technology.
"The 11 locomotive drivers who were issued with certificates today are qualified to be on the frontline of transforming operations of the SGR commuter and cargo service," Macharia said.
Li Jiuping, general manager of SGR operator, said that skills transfer and mentorship program has ensured that Kenyan youth are an integral part of the modern train's key operations.
"At present, positions of basic service categories and integrated management have basically achieved localization," Liu said, adding that localization of major SGR commuter and cargo service operations has reached 90 percent.
Wendy Kagendo, a 28-year-old electrical engineering major, said being certified as a locomotive driver after months of hands-on training and probation was fulfilment of a long cherished dream.
"I feel motivated to work as a locomotive driver and I believe the training we have received in the last two years has given us the skills to perform an otherwise demanding task," Kagendo said.
Born and raised in Kenya's central highlands, Kagendo loved challenging tasks since childhood and is among few girls in her ancestral village who have ventured into the male-dominated engineering field.
"Hopefully, I will become a living testimony in my locality that girls have what it takes to join any profession however challenging," sshe aid.
"The task ahead of me, though arduous, will obviously inspire the next generation of women who are keen to be part of development of railway technology in the country," Kagendo added.
The SGR commuter service, dubbed Madaraka Express, has fostered technology and skills transfer since its launch two years ago, benefitting local youth.
Collins Onyango, a 30-year-old electrical engineering major, said that he is determined to become an accomplished locomotive driver thanks to skills gained from almost three years of training and mentorship.
"Many people in this country have limited understanding of what it takes to become a locomotive driver and I believe the skills we have acquired so far will help us deliver quality service and win trust from the public," he said.
Onyango, whose ancestral home is located in the far reaches of western Kenya near the border with Tanzania, said he developed a fondness for railway transport at a tender age.
He vowed to utilize skills gained as a locomotive driver in the SGR cargo service to mentor youth in his birthplace.