Category Archives: Kenya Railways

Passenger Train to Mombasa in 2015

What if the salesperson, at a company you want to buy from, tells you not to buy their  products and you still go ahead to, because of nostalgia and history?

Train front

The legendary iron snake

What if, despite being routinely behind schedule, the staff go out of their way to ensure that you’re comfortable? What if despite being inconvenienced by half a day, you still consider it worthwhile? And after all this, and understanding all the circumstances they are in, would you still recommend the service to your friends?
That’s the situation with the passenger train between Nairobi and Mombasa. Many people used to take the Kenya Railways train to Mombasa and for school trips elsewhere. But not many do these days, and many more are not aware that the passenger train still runs to and from Mombasa.

It’s been eight years since this last review and there are some major differences

  • There used to be two trains per days, now there is one train, that makes numerous stops
  • The train runs to Mombasa three times a week (M, W, F), and the same to Nairobi on alternate days (T, R, S)
  • The meals are done by Pride Inn hotel group
  • The train is usually late
Train late lunch

Late lunch at Kenya Railways

The train was meant to leave at 7 p.m., and get to Mombasa at 10 a.m. the following day. But we got called at 10 a.m. the day of the trip to be told that the night train was late, and to come in at 10 p.m.

This we did, and there was still no train at the station, just the night managers who said this does happen a lot. There were other passengers waiting, and it was clear that they would take the train no matter what time it came, as it was their only transport from Nairobi to whatever town they were heading on the route. The station master said that when the train came, it would take more than an hour to clean and ‘fill the water’ before the return journey.

We left a phone number with the station master and went back home and kept calling every half hour back to check if the train had come. It did come in at about 3 a.m. and we went back to the station. At about 4 a.m. the train pulled up from the yards, and after showing our receipts, we were issued with boarding cards for the first class cabins. A first-class ticketis   Kshs 4,505 ($45) for adults and 2,795 ($28)  for children for full board travel which is dinner, breakfast,  and beddings in the cabin for each person.

Train cabin beds

1st class cabin with upper and lower beds made

Dinner was served at 5 a.m., and shortly afterward, the train departed Nairobi for what turned out to be an interesting and very long day trip. When we got back to the rooms, the beds had been made up by the train staff and we went to sleep for a few hours, till the bell rang again to announce breakfast was served. This was at about 10 a.m. and it was back to the dining car that seats about 40, in tables of 4.

The train made many stops in places such as Konza, Sultan Hamud, Makindu, and Ulu, and it got to Mtito Andei which is the mid-point of the journey at about 2 P.M. At these small -town stations, passengers in the third class cabins would get on or off the train with their luggage.

That should have been it for meals, but at about 5 p.m. the crew again to summoned first class passengers for an unexpected late lunch meal. After that, it was back to either watching the afternoon views or taking another sleep break in the cabins

The delayed train afforded some unusual daytime views not seen on past trips. Two particular new sights were views of the SGR, the new China-built standard gauge railway which for many kilometers, runs parallel to the old railway. Also after Mtito Andei, and once the train was passing the Tsavo Park, there were also sightings of wildlife including several giraffes and elephant herds in the evening.

Train speed

Speeding through Tsavo

The train is able to attain a decent speed of almost 60 kilometers per hour when the railway is straight and there are no slopes to navigate or stops to make.

But cargo is clearly the priority for the Rift Valley Railways consortium who run the railway (it is said that 99% of their revenue is from cargo, with just 1% from the passenger trains) – and on at least three occasions, our passenger train had to stop for 10-30 minutes at a station, to wait for a heavy cargo train to pass on the way to Nairobi. The trains had wagons go goods or fuel for Uganda, or wagons for the Magadi soda ash factory.

The train eventually got to Mombasa at  1 a.m., having left Nairobi at 5 a.m. the day before. Mombasa station seems to have lost or leased some space in its front yard to a private developer and there’s now a lorry sales lot where cars used to park.

Some other advice;

  • Carry extra snack foods, and soft or hard drinks of choice.
  • Carry wipes, toilet paper, bug spray.
  • Have reading material and fully charged devices

Kutwa Tuesday: Corporate Mysteries

and other Bank Twits

Twitter is a micro-blogging tool that is really nifty for doing mini-posts, forwards and other remarks that (are on any subject) and are maybe not worthy of a full blog post. Here’s a summary of my week on Twitter where there was some interesting discussions, but so far yet to unravel mysteries at Kenya airways, Safaricom and Athi river mining? and some replies

June 15: nairobbery Reading about a Nairobi scam where people actually throw themselves on the windscreens of slow moving cars and later ask for compensation
Kenya central bank study shows popularity of MPesa; users rate it cheap, fast, reliable & accessible http://tinyurl.com/nozxe3

June 16: Media mystery: what happened to the Bamburi vs. Athi story? there were many reporters there but was story buried? http://tinyurl.com/n2k5o8 replies @nakeel It’s called the power of advertising and who pays your bills..

June 17: Economist says Africa’s next country South Sudan “will fail before it has even been born” http://tinyurl.com/kwlw9w
DT Dobie advertising that a Mercedes E200 kompressor is 1796cc and therefore compliant with new Kenya Government rules for Ministers cars
Anti-corruption initiatives falter around Africa http://www.nytimes.com/
Racial Discrimination at World Bank?http://bit.ly/fNXUy
CNBC TV show President Obama killed a fly during an interview. Take it away FOX
Is the Kenya rugby safari sevens tourney over-priced at 1,500 ($19) per season ticket? http://tinyurl.com/m9yhmb
Two new independent (non stockbroker) directors at Nairobi Stock Exchange – NSE Board http://tinyurl.com/n8qqvx

June18 KPLC is going to increase the birth rate in kenya if they keep failing to supply electricity.

June 19: Kenya and Uganda Catholic churches in a race to hell with simultaneous abuse scandals; media coverage in UG is NSFW http://www.redpepper.ug
Michela Wrong to visit the World Bank http://bit.ly/LpJHy

June 20 Discovering the mysterys of white cap, EABLs no.2 that survives recessions without any advertising
replies @coldtusker I didn’t say it ‘failed’ but IMHO its core consumer base isn’t GenX but my mzee’s generation. What happened to WC lite? White Cap’s demographics are skewed to stable, older, wealthier, ‘old dogs’ market. It has failed among the ‘younger’ drinkers. @Fintradecapital thats really true. Its drinkers r consistent.
I use nivea creams, but all their posters and adverts scream i am soooò not their target customer!
replies @uhusiano is cos they are all jungus? @coldtusker Are you thinking of doing a chaz bono? re: nivea – not their target market… LOL… @devonwhittle I’m also a Nivea customer, but their “skin whitening” products and ads worry me – @karuoro I use Nivea shower gel but prefer Vaseline lotion..find nivea lotions too..sticky (don’t know if that makes sense) @Ethnicsupplies I’ve never liked the smell @Shiko_Msa we the target customers that is. feel welcome. Even though they dont welcome we do.
Stomping through kilelewshwa – many apartment complexes have ‘to let’ signs

june 21 Safaricom selling cheap internet ready phones including nokia 1680 for $38 replies @alykhansatchu I was reading that @ thinking 13m Subs converts to 2m x $1.00 a day internet
@coldtusker also former Kenya Airways director is CEO air uganda. Seems KQ is now finishing school for sub-saharan airline bosses. replies @coldtusker Hugh Fraser (ex-KQ now CEO of Air Uganda) was in the very important Commercial Director post @ coldtusker Neil Canty (former CFO-KQ) went to Gulf Air though he has left them for another gig. Africa again?

R/T @airlineroute KLM to operate MD11s on Nairobi-amsterdam for Kenya Airways from july to september! What will the 777s be doing?

Unexpected dividend cheque from stanbic uganda ~$15 in the mail today #migingo
replies @PinkM How do you cash your Stanbic UG cheques?I haven’t cashed for 2 years now. Thanks.Will try that. I wish it was possible to bank at CFC Stanbic even for CFC a/c holders

Kenya retain rugby revens title, but Is that DJ CK on pitch with team at #safarisevens? He’s kenya’s top gate crasher replies @kenyanpundit hehehe, DJ CK was EVERYWHERE at the WEF in Capetown @kachwanya you just made me remember almost similar incident sometime back during Orange launch..yeah he somehow did that

June 22 Kenya’ anti-aid author envious of @dambisamoyo http://bit.ly/mBdFg
replies @kainvestor Many African anti-aid champions see sinister agendas in the success of @dambisamoyo. She wasn’t the 1st to write against aid >>>
Safaricom shares pick up after managers visit Europe & US fund investment firms http://tinyurl.com/lewfyn #safaricom #investorrelations
Family Bank 25th anniversary
President @mwaikibaki encourages banks to use mobile phones to reach beyond the 22% ‘banked’ kenyans
Have more twitter followers than feedburner subsribers; what does that mean?
people who vandalised the Kenya Railways Kibera railway, may also have got paid to fix it after http://tinyurl.com/c9ykra

June 23 Any well wishers to donate a PC or laptop to Mamamikes who were recently robbed? http://www.mamamikes.com/bl…
59% of small business owners rely on credit cards for working capital! scary http://preview.tinyurl.com/

Kenya Railways (now RVR)

Besides planes, I am to a lesser extent a train buff who took many trips by train from Nairobi to Mombasa as a kid. During school holidays the overnight train ride was one of my greatest treats. It used to take 12 hours going through the dark countryside, waving at people, counting train cars, and memorizing stations. Later we’d have a good dinner and go sleep when it got boring to wake up in the morning, glad to have put the man eating lions of Tsavo behind us. A full breakfast in the dining car would then set the mood for more watching – looking out for for the first coconut tree, smell the ocean (and then Changamwe) before finally getting to the Mombasa station where my uncle would be there waiting to take us to Kwale for the rest of the holidays.

Needles to say Kenya Railways corporation became a run-down shell that is another story in itself. I’ve read enough stories of passengers stuck in the bush when trains break down or derail. Anyway you will probably hear about another trip one day, so when the Institute of Economic Affairs invited Mr. Roy Puffet, the MD of Rift Valley Railways I was briefly there to hear what was said.

Some snippets (I was late to the event)

New start: RVR is a 25-year concession between a consortium of companies and the governments so Kenya and Uganda.

RVR got off to a start in November 2006 and suffered 61 derailments that month. They have since slowed down all their trains as a measure to contain such incidents. They now average 10 – 12 incidents a month – from a combination of equipment, railway and human failures (including sabotage)

Financial & investment: So far the consortium has invested about $18 million The shareholding is 70% foreign (Sheltam, and an Australian company) and 30% local (Transcentury – 20%, ICDCI – 10%) and some financing was sourced from the IFC.

Some attendees later asked why Kenyans were not given a chance to invest in the company (like the Kengen IPO) to which the MD replied that there were not a lot of investors rushing to build railways in Africa (only 2 groups bid for the concession).

Equipment: RVR inherited 174 locomotives from Kenya (55 were working) and 44 from Uganda (25 operational) . also 46% of the 7,000 wagons were usable.

They have focused on getting a working fleet going. This has entailed reducing the fleet to contain only trains in good condition and they also got back 5 locomotives from Magadi soda. Fleet repair is slow as the company faces a lead time of 8 months for locomotive spares.

Their workshops were run down, with no tools or equipment, and many of the sheds had long been taken over by other businesses. The remaining sheds had leaking roofs, and when it rained they had to stop maintenance work for fear of electrocution.

Railway: Demand from China for steel has driven steel prices through the roof. There are few companies making railway parts (and African countries have a different railway size) so it takes about 8 months to deliver (they have to order 4,000 tons at a go) which is expensive. One engineer (from the UK) at the talk said that such a railway would be shut down with all the incidents if it was in Europe – the MD replied probably true but this was the state of things. He added that new rails were being laid on the Mombasa – Nairobi line after which the older ones will be taken out and used for other upcountry lines.

They will also close some stations (there are 50+ stations between Nairobi and Mombasa) and have installed communication’s and tracking systems on all trains and stations

Operations RVR have done quite well since they took over in November 2006 and move about 200,000 tons per month. While this has not changed much in volume from before the concession, they are achieving this with two differences (i) they are using a smaller fleet (ii) and they are collecting more revenue (from increased efficiency & reduced corruption in revenue collection) – about $6m a month. Their volumes dipped in December and April following flooding from the rains. The MD mentioned that they now take between 4 – 7 days to move cargo from Mombasa to Kampala – from 20+ days before, though some members of the Kenya Shippers Association disputed that there.

Other stakeholders

Employees those not retrenched by the company are all being retrained in safety and modern railway processes

Customers While there have been complaints about the slow movement from the Mombasa port (including by the Kenya Ports Authority) , the MD said that 50% of the 14,000 containers at the Mombasa port don’t have proper documentation.

He added that business people were contributors to this i.e. as a result of the past railway inefficiency, companies had taken to using railway train wagons at Mombasa as extra storage facilities. But when the railway movement improved, and cargo was now moved upcountry, the same businessmen took their time to offload goods, creating more congestion.

They have tried to contain prices and their charges ($0.05 per ton per km) compare well with , truck who have taken advantage of rail inefficiency to jack up prices.

Passengers & commuters: they will run commuter train services (in Nairobi) for 5 years, but this is one thing none of the bidders for the concession wanted to continue running – as it is a loss maker.

Kenya Railways: The corporation still exists and will oversee the concession on behalf of the government of Kenya, while also maintaining a register of railway assets. The corporation still has a great burden from the past – illustrated by Kshs 31 billion of debts (about $600 million). Including a 12 billion pension deficit. They hope to use land sales to pay off their employee (and perhaps supplier) obligations while also talking with the governments to waive some debt. They have also received 1 billion shillings form the world bank to resettle some residents in Kibera who live/work too close to the railway line (but this plan/financing is already 1/ ½ years behind schedule)

Summary: The MD mentioned that there was a lot of expectations about the now concessioned railways – some of which were not close to being realistic. He also added that they had fewer customers as a result of the slow uptake by the concession, but added that RVR had no regrets and that the governments of Kenya and Uganda were very supportive.

So, a rough but promising start by the company who now say they have enough locomotives working to achieve their 5-year targets. Will they be a celebrated success like Safaricom? We’ll know in a few years.

KPLC unbundled

A new company will be spun off from the Kenya Power and Lighting Company once PricewaterhouseCoopers complete a review and formulate a balance sheet for the new transmission company.

RVR shutdown: Kenya Ports Authority has ended a contract with Rift Valley Railways for non performance. What ails the company that has invested so much in new trains? Well the actual railway is still run by Kenya railways who have not seen any significant investment in years (but who have just advertised for a new MD)

Other Madaraka Jobs
most from the papers

Aureos Kenya a private equity funds is seeking investment professionals. Apply by
20/6 the managing partner at 43233-00100 Nairobi.

British airways: Trade sales manager east Africa, Corporate sales manager East Africa. Apply to hcapjobs@wananchi.com by 8/6

Investment Research Consultants at Kaimana Consulting to evaluate investment opportunities in the emerging markets of Eastern Africa. Apply to jobs@kaimanaconsulting.com.