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Nairobi Commuter Train System: In the Shadows of the Lunatic Express

Whether true not, the demand for commuter trains in the country is ballooning and to think that Nairobians religiously use the commuter trains to and from work is refreshing.

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Nairobi Commuter Train System: Is the Government Doing Enough?
Photo: Flickr/yusunkwon
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In March 2018, social media in Kenya was awash with images of old rickety Spanish trains that the Kenyan government was allegedly planning to buy at a rough estimate of between Sh71 million and Sh137 million per train to supplement the need for the Nairobi commuter train demand.

According to a media report, the Kenyan government was planning to import at least 11 diesel multiple units (DMU) of trains from Spain, with some as old as 25 years. The Transport Secretary, Esther Koimett, however, refuted the claims while sharing images on Twitter of what she said were the actual DMUs that government is planning on shipping to minimise the traffic congestion in the city.

“These are the actual DMUs we are getting. Cost for the 11 DMUs is Sh1.5 billion NOT Sh10 billion. They should serve us for another 20-25 years,” said Ms Koimett.

Whether true or not, the demand for commuter trains in the country is ballooning and that Nairobians religiously use the commuter trains to and from work is revealing. In March for instance, tens of thousands of commuters were heavily inconvenienced due to delays on the Nairobi commuter railway service (NCRS) schedule caused by the presence of French President Emmanuel Macron in the country.

“Dear customers, please note that the evening commuter train services will tomorrow (13/03/2019) experience delays. Syokimau 1 will depart at 1845 hours while Embakasi train will leave at 1900 hours. The other evening trains will run as scheduled,” read a notice by the Kenya Railway Corporation (KRC).

It was on the same day that the French President was conducting a station tour of the Nairobi Central Railway Station off Haile Selassie Avenue with commitment of funding the proposed development of a commuter rail service to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. This is aimed at decongesting the city as well as reducing the time taken between the central business district (CBD) and the airport.

The proposed JKIA commuter rail service, which is set to be completed by 2021 is part of a Sh340 billion public and private infrastructure trade deal between Kenya and France.

The Transport Ministry documents that over 13,000 Nairobians use the Nairobi Commuter Rail Service (NCRS), which was unveiled last December, every day. The NCRS is part of the Nairobi Metropolitan Transport Master Plan, which aims at decongesting the city.

The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) on the other hand keeps the data of revenues collected from ticket sales. It, however, does not report the number of travellers who use the NCRS in a day.

The data below shows the amount of money in millions that KRA collected from NCRS in terms of number of tickets sold in the period 2013 – 2016.

The NCRS operates 20 trips every day as shown in the below schedule, with average fare costs of between Sh30-Sh60. The Nairobi Transport executive Mohamed Dagane said in an interview last December that the commuter trains move over 40,000 different people daily contradicting reports by the Ministry of Transport.

“When the full complement is in they will enable us to transport around 132,000 people a day compared to the 13,000 we do today,” said Ms Koimett.

KRC in December said the NCRS project dubbed Nairobi Railway City (NRC) was part of its efforts to decongest the city roads. It is co-funded by the government and the World Bank.

To this effect, 10 new stations were to be completed to facilitate the plan. The Dandora, Mwiki, Githurai, Kahawa, and Ruiru were among the new stations. They complement the existing ones – Kibera, Imara Daima, Syokimau, and Makadara.

But the commuter train services in Nairobi are not a new thing. The services were introduced in the 1980s to provide a low-cost public transport alternative to the urban poor in the city, following the crippling economic inflation the country was experiencing at the time.

The long-distance passenger services had also been in operation between  Nairobi and Mombasa, as well as to  Kisumu, since the railway service went into operation in 1903 and as a result, the Kenya  Railways Corporation did not therefore have to acquire any new passenger wagons for the new services.

Despite the addition of the new wagons, the capacity is still limited as more and more Kenyans choose the trains over matatus, mainly because of time constraints and convenience away from the public service madness on the Kenyan roads.

Commuting to the city centre by train is much faster than by road, and more affordable. The trains carry sitting as well as standing passengers, with some hanging at the doors, and the more daring riding on the roof especially for passengers plying the Kibera route.

Most of the new stations constructed in the 2000s contain parking facilities allowing personal vehicle owners access to the stations.

Commuter train schedule

The commuter trains operate on weekdays twice during rush hours in the morning and evening. Some routes like the Nairobi – Syokimau also have afternoon services.

The service is not available on weekends, public holidays,  and during certain times of the day mostly non-peak periods.

The train picks up commuters at designated stops and takes approximately 20-30 minutes between stations. This includes a stoppage of two minutes at halts to pick up or drop commuters.

The current commuter rail network is so dilapidated that the average speed on some sections is as low as 15 kilometres per hour due to broken rails, unstable tracks and insufficient ballast.

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Stellar Murumba is the Project Manager of PesaCheck, a member of the Wanadata Network and Lead in Code for Africa's Chokers-counterfeit medicines project.

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Things Are Elephant: The Effect of COVID-19 in Nairobi Low-Income Areas

The full extent of the impact of the coronavirus crisis in Nairobi low-income areas is yet to be seen but as Juliet Atellah analyses, it will be important to track.

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At least 30 percent of low-income earners have lost their jobs since the Government of Kenya placed restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 reveals a recently published report.

The report, titled Survey on the Covid-19 Global Pandemic in Nairobi’s low income Areas conducted by Trends and Insights for Africa (TIFA), a local research firm, found that at least 60 percent of those who have suffered loss of daily earnings claim that the restrictions should be lifted so that people can resume their normal economic activities even if this means the virus continues to spread. This is against a backdrop of increased desperation in many of these low-income neigbourhoods, which has strained resources in a least 75 percent of households, the report notes.

Social institutions and movement have not been spared either by the lockdown. According to the report, at least 66 percent of the respondents have been affected by the ban on travel into and out of the metropolitan and the imposition of the 1900 hrs to 0500 hrs curfew. James Mogaka, a resident of Kawangware told the Elephant that he has been unable to travel to his home county of Kisii to spend time with his family. He has not seen them since the regulations were enforced. As is the plight of Mogaka and many others, the report highlights that 57 percent of low-income earners are very worried on the continuation of the Nairobi travel ban and curfew and they advocate for the restrictions to be lifted so people can resume their normal activities.

Things Are Elephant: The Effect of COVID-19 in Nairobi Low-Income Areas
Increase in crime has been the major reason why over 80 percent of respondents are keen that the curfew and travel restrictions be lifted and economic activities continue. They are concerned about the future levels of crime due to the economic implications of the lockdown. When asked to corroborate this, Eunice Mwaniki, a resident of Huruma and mother of two, told The Elephant that she closes her vegetable business at 1600 hrs everyday because once dusk approaches, gangs of young men troll the streets pickpocketing and mugging citizens of their hard earned money. She emphasised that the last time she witnessed this kind of theft and daylight robbery was during the grim days of the Nyayo era when Nairobi was infamously christened “Nairobbery”

A majority of denizens are pessimistic that things will change and even bigger majorities are “very worried” about contracting the COVID-19 virus with the constant rise in the number of cases and deaths. Indeed, how such perceptions will change as the full extent of the impact of the virus crisis will be important to track moving forward, given the impact of such perceptions on actual behaviour, both related to the disease and the conditions of life more generally.

On 6th June 2020, a clear majority of respondents had hoped that the President would announce an end to both the travel ban and night curfew but what followed was only a reduction of the curfew period and a hinted policy posture to open up the country. As the country gets closer to 6th July 2020, the day the lockdown will likely be lifted; it is yet to be perceived what direction the government will take. What is clear, however, is that Kenyans are eagerly expecting a policy shift that will make their lives better.

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COVID-19 in Kenya: A Situational Analysis of the Now and the Near Future

Using mathematical modelling, Professor Waititu simulates the progress of the coronavirus outbreak.

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The daily positive cases in Kenya are on an upward trend. The highest daily count of 278 cases was reported on 27/06/2020. The total confirmed cases so far are 6,070.

In Africa, the five countries with the highest number of confirmed cases are South Africa with 138,134 cases, Egypt with 65,188 cases, Nigeria with 24,567 cases, Ghana with 16,742 cases and Algeria with 13,273 cases.

Testing

The number of confirmed cases could be attributed to the total number of tests conducted by a country. For example, by 27th June 2020, South Africa had tested 1.53 Million people. Ghana had tested 288,465 people by 25th June 2020, Nigeria had tested 130,164 people by 28th June 2020 while Kenya had 165,196 tests by 29th June 2020. The implication here is that the positive cases in Kenya could increase with increased number of tests. Kenya will therefore have to increase the number of tests across the country incase the government decides to remove its lock down restrictions in the identified hot spots. Early detection of positive cases and proper contact tracing are very important in the recovery of infected cases.

Death Rate

On the death rate, Kenya has registered 143 fatalities, translating to a death rate of 2.36%. South Africa which has the highest number of confirmed cases in Africa at 138,134, has a lower death rate of 1.78%. One of the highest death rates in Africa has been reported in Algeria at 6.78% from 897 deaths. Ghana has one of the lowest reported death rate of 0.67% from 112 deaths. Egypt has a death rate of 4.28% from 2,789 deaths while Nigeria has a death rate of 2.30% from 565 deaths. Kenya is therefore doing relatively well in managing the positive cases compared to other African countries.

Recovery

Kenya’s recovery rate is currently at 32.47% from 1,971 recoveries. This is a much lower recovery rate compared to statistics from other African countries. South Africa has a recovery rate of 49.90 % from 68,925 recoveries, Algeria has a recovery rate of 70.60% from 9,371 recoveries while Ghana and Nigeria have recovery rates of 75.98 % and 36.66% respectively. Kenya needs to raise the recovery rate to a comfortable figure above 60%. This will help the country release pressure on the health system and also motivate the easing of the existing lockdown restrictions.

Infections Prediction

How will Kenyan COVID-19 infections look like in the coming days? The answer may not be definite since the spread of the virus is determined by the nature of community response to safety strategies given by MoH such as regular hand washing, social distancing and staying at home. However, as shown in the prediction graph below, the daily infections in Kenya are going to increase as time goes by. It is predicted that in the near future, the daily cases in Kenya will soon be above 300 with the possibility of a maximum of about 400. This conclusion is based on the assumption that the testing samples will be optimally selected.

Image 2.The Peak

Has Kenya reached it’s peak? The simple answer is no. As a matter of fact, Kenya will hit the 10,000 mark of confirmed cases within the month of July 2020. As seen in the graph below for cummulative confirmed cases, the positive cases are still on an upward trend. A peak will be experienced when the cummulative cases will start stagnating around a certain figure over time. With the current trend of infections, the earliest time Kenya will reach its peak is around September 2020. It should also be noted that incase the lockdown is relaxed, Kenya will definitely experience a surge in the infections before the situation stabilises. This has happened in other countries such as South Africa, Germany and China. Since COVID-19 has spread to most of the counties in Kenya, the focus now should be on the level of preparedness by the county governments in implementing the MoH guidelines and the avalaibility of functioning and COVID-19 equiped hospitals.

Image 2.This report is based on the data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CCSE) as at 9:00am E.A.T on 29/06/2010.

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Hands Up, Don’t Shoot

If things continue as they are, 2020 will be one of the deadliest years on record for the police. By 1st June 2020, 95 people had been killed by them.

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Hands Up, Don't Shoot
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Covid-19 regulation enforcement has added a new dimension to police killings in Kenya. 18% of this year’s victims died as a result of police enforcing these rules. You can view data on #policebrutalityke in the database we built with MissingVoicesKE.

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