Sustainability of Madaraka Express passenger train

Monday, August 3rd, 2020 00:00 |
SGR train at Mombasa terminus. Photo/Courtesy

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a major ripple effect on the transport sector and on railways in particular.

One of the biggest impacts has been the lack of passenger transport demand following the March suspension of the Madaraka Express passenger service as part of the government’s containment measures. 

On the other hand, freight trains remained in operation to meet the immediate challenges posed by the pandemic and keep the essential services running. 

Notably, the Madaraka Express freight trains were used to transport medical supplies and related equipment within the region.

But the good news is that following the resumption of Madaraka Express passenger service on July 13, the trains have transported an average of 1,030 passengers a day or 95 per cent of the available 50 per cent capacity, indicating a high demand for the Madaraka Express passenger service.

As of July 19, Afristar had transported 17,502 passengers, only 16 days after the resumption of the passenger service. 

There is no denying that sustainability of the Madaraka Express passenger service during and post Covid-19 is dependent on the wellbeing of passengers and staff.

As such, Kenya Railways and Africa Star Railway Operation Company (Afristar), the operator of Madaraka Express, are abiding by the protocols issued by the ministries of Health and Transport. 

For instance, Afristar deploys 10 coaches (eight economy and two first-class coaches) daily with a one-way capacity of 50 per cent.

An additional coach is added for passengers presenting with Covid-19 symptoms.

While this has been the case, lessons learnt during the Covid-19 pandemic slowdown call for a new paradigm of mobility. 

In a report titled Covid-19 impact on transport:  An essay from the Railways’ Systems Research Perspective, the European Rail Research Network of Excellence says that when re-thinking the near future of rail, it will be necessary to provide safe, independent compartments in which a small number of passengers will be able to travel and apply social distance measures. 

“Because of the composition of passengers’ wagons, the adaptation of the layout regarding passengers’ seats will be fast and efficient.

Rail will also provide a cost-efficient transport mode in relation to the new requirements on health controls, as it will be possible to implement security controls which will be smooth and fast, safeguarding both passengers and crew prior to their access to the train station.

Special focus will be placed on the new requirements on deep cleaning and sanitization of the wagon between each new journey”, the report says.

Indeed, one of the major lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic is that transportation systems must adapt quickly to change.

A case in point is the Madaraka Express passenger service that was affected by three government directives in the first quarter of 2020, namely the 60 per cent seat occupancy rate, the national curfew and the cessation of movement into and out of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi and Mandera counties. 

To ensure the current distortions in terms of passenger numbers do not result in diminishing the gains made earlier, the operator will constantly engage various stakeholders, including Kenya Railways, which will periodically come up with prudent commercial decisions to keep the passenger service afloat.

Afristar has also continued to leverage technology and staff skills to provide safe and reliable services. For instance, Afristar’s train dispatchers use an advanced Centralised Traffic Control (CTC) to manage track use, ensure trains are routed safely and efficiently, and ensure the safety of staff working on and around the track.  —The author is a Communications Adviser, Afristar

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