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Thursday, 1 March, 2001, 09:44 GMT
Nairobi's commuter train soldiers on
Nairobi commuter train
Some commuters hang out precariously to avoid paying fare
As part of a series of features on how transport problems affect the everyday lives of Africans, the BBC Swahili Service's Solomon Mugera looks at commuting by train in Nairobi

On a drizzly Monday morning, hundreds of Nairobi residents flock to their nearest train station to catch the early commuter service to the city centre.

In a city where millions rely on public transport, the commuter train is comparatively cheaper than the pothole-battered Kenyan buses and reckless minibuses, known locally as matatus.


Actually we are not making huge loses like it was in the past. I won't say we are making profits, but we are breaking even

James Nyaundi
The service was hurriedly conceived and implemented way back in 1986 as a general strike by bus and matatu operators threatened to ground the city to a halt.

But over the years, Kenya Railways Corporation, which runs the service, has continued to rely heavily on government subsidy as it struggles to make economic sense out of the venture.

Packed coaches

The Nairobi commuter train service operates on a daily basis, Monday to Friday.

Train passengers
The trains serve about 25,000 passengers per day
At about 0600 (0400 GMT), the first of the two passenger trains departs from Kahawa station in the north of Nairobi, meandering through Njiru, Dandora, Buruburu and Makadara estates to the main terminal in the city.

PAcked in the nine coaches of the train are workers, the jobless, school children and preachers, who latch on to an audience willing to participate in song, prayer and might give an offering.

Thieves are also on the prowl, busy targeting unsuspecting passengers' pockets and handbags.

There are also fare evaders who precariously hang out of the doors and windows, ready to jump off whenever the train conductor approaches.

Fare charges

The Kenya Railways has even introduced two more train services to Embakasi in the east of Nairobi and Kikuyu to the west, to cater for the increasing demand.

Kenya Railways station
More trains introduced due to high demand
Train charges range from kshs 20 ( 25 US cents) for adults to five shillings for the children.

In total, the commuter trains ferry up to 25,000 people a day to and from the city and earn close to $100,000 a month.

The passenger services manager, James Nyaundi told the BBC that the corporation has cut down on huge losses by streamlining the management of the service.

"Actually we are not making huge loses like it was in the past. I won't say we are making profits, but we are breaking even."


By car

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