Recently when I was travelling to Mombasa, I used Madaraka express for the first time since it was launched and I enjoyed the experience. I have to admit that I was one of the harshest critics of the project. I only saw debt that my great grandchildren were going to pay dearly and through their nose.

So when I decided to use the train to Mombasa on 26th December, I had lowered my expectations to the very bare minimum. Even if I would have found an elephant’s poop in one of the coaches or the portrait of the Chinese premier, I would have been okay with it.

You must forgive me because the last time I used a train in Kenya while travelling to Mombasa, the experience was horrifying. The seats were uncomfortable, there were no amenities, the coaches were naked literally and the biting cold of Tsavo tormented us. We boarded the train at 7:00 PM and we arrived in Mombasa the next day at midday.

Luckily, I didn’t find the things I dreaded most like a dirty toilet, elephant’s poop etc. On the contrary, my expectations were met and surpassed. For the first time, I really felt proud to be a Kenyan. It’s not like the accountability questions about the cost of the train are suddenly going to be washed away, nope, but I was thoroughly impressed.

In a country that win awards on mediocrity, and always exports bad news in form of police brutality, election theft and such vices we have become known for, it was a moment of pride to find a clean terminus with working machines. I couldn’t believe that you can walk to a booth and print your own ticket without someone being there to extort you.

I almost picked my jaw from the floor at the fast pace with which thousands of passengers are orderly cleared by the Police as they do the luggage inspection to join the terminus. The orderly way they inspected bags and cleared passengers was impressive.

When I saw the Policemen who were doing that work, jovial and really dedicated to their work, even cracking jokes with passengers, I almost struggled to reconcile the image of a force that committed brutal acts like the ones I covered after the elections. But it also showed that individual cops can restore the faith of Kenyans in the Police service by going beyond the call of duty.

It’s impressive how clean the Madaraka Express is. With our affinity to litter, I must give it to the Kenya Railways Corporation guys for keeping the coaches clean and ensuring that even the curtains are spotless and the Ac is working.

As a man who has a deep passion for excellent customer service, and understanding that Madaraka Express is good, I would suggest a few changes to make the experience even more memorable:

Remove the Chinese flags

Kenya Railways must urgently remove any Chinese signs on our Madaraka Express. Leaving the flags of the People’s Republic of China in our coaches is not something that should continue in 2018. It’s like taking a loan only for the financial institution to demand visible branding in what you purchased with their loan.

I don’t care how philanthropic China is but the loan we took from them to build the railway will be paid with interest. Therefore chuck any Chinese flags in the coaches. Maybe have a Kenyan flag side by side with Kenyan symbols. Like mount Kenya, the big five, Lake Victoria, the flora and fauna so that anyone riding the train knows its uniquely Kenyan.

Fix the seats

Urgently fix the seats because they are awfully uncomfortable. Four hours of riding the train got my back in pain badly. Get them a bit slanted and increase their comfort. But why am I even giving ideas? I think if we get the young Kenyans who have fixed seats in those Rongai and Buru mats, within a short time, the Madaraka Express coaches will be as comfortable as those nganyas we love to use.

 

Designate children friendly coaches

I don’t know how this will work but Kenya Railways must make a few children friendly coaches. A place where parents can change their children comfortably, where children can play freely under the supervision of their parents and a coach where they can just be children.

As it is, mixing a coach with children and adults is a hot mess. Adults can’t read, sleep or just enjoy a quiet trip to Mombasa and children are hushed. I travelled in one such coach and it was chaotic. Pure chaos. By the time we were reaching Mtito Andei, the noise in my coach had already taken away my energy.

I saw many parents in my coach change their children on this sink.

Viewing points

Kenya is a beautiful country. We are endowed with unrivalled flora and fauna. As the Madaraka Express makes its way to Mombasa, apart from just allowing people to view the beauty from very restricted windows, maybe an additional feature of a coach that can allow people to stand in some places to soak in the beauty of our country would be ideal.

Through the special coaches, KRC can charge extra for those who would like to shoot videos, take photos and basically soak in the beauty of our country. This can be one more product differentiation method to rake in extra income for KRC.

 

Customer service

I was shocked to see intimidating cops with big guns walking in our coaches. I understand the importance of security but I don’t understand why Madaraka express would be having such a scene that can easily cower the travellers, some who are tourists. Maybe plainclothes officers with hidden pistols can be used to patrol the coaches.

The staff who are working in the coaches ought to be extra friendly. Especially the ones who examine the tickets. While I wouldn’t like to generalize this point, I experienced one such staff who looked offended while examining the tickets. She was looking for a fight and her foul mood filled the coach with over 100 travellers. Maybe she was having a bad day but in the service industry, customer service is supposed to be paramount.

Conclusion

Travelling to Mombasa is now easier than before. Through the SGR, if booked on time, one doesn’t have to spend a whole 10 hours on the road while travelling to Mombasa. However, the inconveniences must be addressed to give customers a memorable experience. Also, the terminus in Mombasa needs to allow Uber drivers to access it. The government should expand the road from the terminus to the airport so that one doesn’t spend four hours on the train and 4 hours on the road to Mombasa because of traffic.

 

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Author: Dannish Odongo

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