Feature: Kenyans rush to book train service ahead of Christmas season

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NAIROBI, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) -- Ever since it was launched in 2017, the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) passenger train has become the transport of choice for many Kenyans wishing to travel to the Coast, some 400 km away from the capital Nairobi.

Most citizens prefer the mode of travel because it is faster as compared to road transport; it is also reliable, convenient and most importantly affordable.

On Nov. 27 while planning for a staff training of 20, which was to take place at the Coast, Caroline Kimeu knew transport was covered because of the SGR service.

"I actually did everything else, including booking for accommodation and organizing for the trainers, and saved transport for the last. Knowing that it was still early for Christmas rush, therefore I would get seats on the train," she recounted on Tuesday.

However, when Kimeu, the administration officer at a non-governmental organization in Nairobi, sought to book the train tickets for the Dec. 2 trip, she was shocked to learn there was no space.

"The train to Mombasa was full on that day until Dec. 17, the system informed me. It was a shock and we had to look for alternative transport. We hired a minibus to Mombasa, which increased our costs," she said, noting that she booked for her team the train from Mombasa to Nairobi, which is not full.

The SGR train, dubbed the Madaraka Express, that runs between Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa, is fully booked to capacity over a month ahead of Christmas as Kenyans seeking convenience rush to get space in the service.

It is the first time since the launch of the service that Kenyans have filled the train nearly a month to the start of Christmas holidays as early booking craze catches on, especially with the service.

Among those who have booked the train are companies taking their staff for training, team building sessions or end-year parties to the Coast, foreign tourists, businesspersons, families and domestic tourists.

"Last year I missed the train to Mombasa because I tried to book on Dec. 10 for the Dec. 20 journey. I had to drive to and from Mombasa with my family," said Cyrus Kutoi, a medical doctor.

"This time, I booked space on the train for my Dec. 22 trip on Nov. 18. I was surprised that I was not the only early bird because a number of seats were already taken," said Kutoi.

The train takes slightly over four hours to journey from Nairobi to Mombasa and vice versa, therefore, cuts travel time by up to three hours for Kenyans who would otherwise have used road.

Fares are 1,000 Kenyan shillings (9.8 U.S. dollars) for the economy class and 29 dollars for first class, with the charges being one of the main reasons Kenyans love the train.

According to Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC), the Madaraka Express train is fully booked for this month, with only few spaces remaining, especially on week days.

KRC acting managing director Philip Mainga, however, said the number of coaches would be increased in the coming weeks ahead of Christmas from current nine to 14 for the economy class to cater for the high demand.

With the train full, buses, airlines and other modes of transport to the Coast have increased their fares to cash in on high demand.

It currently costs up to 392 dollars return tickets from Nairobi to Mombasa on national carrier Kenya Airways when one books through an agent, up from 254 dollars in low season.

Smaller airlines are charging an average of 112 dollars for the one-way ticket on the same route, up from 54 dollars.

Bus companies are currently charging an average of 14.7 dollars from Nairobi to Mombasa, up from 9.8 dollars, with fares rising further, especially on Fridays and Saturdays when bookings surge.

Bernard Mwaso, a consultant with Edell IT Solution in Nairobi, said besides convenience and affordability, what has made Kenyans go for the train service is ease in booking via mobile phones.

"To book the train, all one needs is visit the website, and purchase one-way or return ticket and pay," he said. "But there is even an easier way of using the USSD code (also known as Quick Codes), which is faster and this is what has made even many go for service because you secure a seat from any part of Kenya you are and on any date with no kind of restriction." Enditem

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