Animals are seen in the foreground of a bridge of the Nairobi-Mombasa Standard Gauge Railway on Dec 5 near Nairobi, Kenya. (China Daily/Cui Liu)
Dimi Kimoni works in Voi as the Coast regional chair of Athletics Kenya but his family resides in Nairobi. His weekend reunion with his wife Alice, daughter Lisa and son Erick has become much easier and convenient since the launch of the Madaraka express train on May 31, 2017.
Kimoni was recorded as the most frequent passenger of the railway, making 222 trips between Nairobi and Voi as of last Thursday. Kimoni prefers the economy class as it is affordable, safe, clean and has good customer service. His trips are not just about reaching his destination. He enjoys interacting with people, a character that has seen him make at least six friends during each trip, he said.
At the railway's two-year celebration ceremony at the Nairobi Terminus on Friday, Concilia Owire and her ten colleagues were issued with certificates, becoming the first batch of locomotive qualified drivers on Kenya's Standard Gauge Railway, or SGR, meaning they can drive the train independently, without the help of Chinese drivers.
Concilia joined the Africa Star Railway Operation Company Ltd in 2016, and has studied hard to learn about locomotive principles, layout, electrical appliances and the brake system.
She is thrilled that she has passed the exam to become an SGR locomotive driver. "I will work together with my team to write a new chapter of Mombasa-Nairobi SGR!" Concilia said.
James Macharia, cabinet secretary for the Kenyan Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development and Public Works, hailed the two years of successful operations as having surpassed expectations to perform exceptionally well with the future looking even brighter.
Macharia said: "The service has presented new opportunities for Kenyans through job creation and technology transfer while helping in navigating transport challenges which had partly hindered Kenya from fully realizing its domestic potential."
According to Macharia, the construction of the Nairobi-to-Suswa section of the SGR is at an advanced stage and 98 percent complete. The launch of the Phase 2A passenger service is scheduled to take place in August this year, and it's expected to further facilitate transportation of passengers and cargo in the nation. Notably, the SGR line will be heavily relied upon to offer transportation to and from the new Naivasha Industrial Park.
The SGR service has also had a positive impact on the tourism sector, with more tourists going to the coastal region in the past two years. According to the Kenya Tourism Board, bed occupancy has increased to more than 90 percent up from 50 percent recorded in previous years, a factor largely attributable to the Madaraka Express.
Guo Ce, economic and commercial counselor of the Chinese Embassy in Kenya, highly praised the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR as a century infrastructural project and one of the benchmarks of the Belt and Road Initiative.
"This flagship project promotes the economic and social development of Kenya and brings along tangible benefits to the two countries as well as showcasing their deepening friendship."
Li Jiuping, general manager of Africa Star Railway Operation Company Ltd, said Mombasa-Nairobi SGR has been listed as "one of the thirteen most remarkable rail tours for 2019" and the fifth of "20 Best Things to Do in Kenya".
According to the general manager, currently two sets of passenger trains operate daily, with average seat occupancy at above 90 percent. Additionally, nine freight trains operate daily.
"So far, we've offered service to 3 million passengers, transported a total of more than 382,000 twentyfoot equivalent units, translating to more than 4.4 million tons of cargoes and achieved safe operation for 731 days," Li said.
"We've also successfully completed the transportation tasks for key passengers, including Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and the delegation of 231 people including Ugandan Minister of Transport Monica Azuba and World Bank officials."
Li noted that Africa Star is gradually achieving the overall localization goal. Dispatch Center, as the core function of transportation, already has four Kenyan employees participating in dispatch command work. The transportation management of 25 stations out of 33 is fully handled by Kenyan employees. He added that the localization of nine passenger service stations, train service and passenger management has surpassed 90 percent.
Besides, Africa Star has actively fulfilled its responsibilities and contributed to society. Since commencement, the total amount of taxes and levies paid amounts to $17.7 million.