The SGR (Standard Gauge Railway) or the Madaraka Express is a passenger train service that operates daily between Nairobi and Mombasa. Traveling by the SGR especially from Nairobi to Mombasa or vice versa is definitely something every Kenyan should experience at least once in their lives. It is efficient, convenient, and quite affordable. However, before one uses the train, it certainly would not hurt to know what to expect. Therefore, here’s all you need to know about the SGR.
Madaraka Express has three roundtrips daily between Nairobi and Mombasa as follows:
Nairobi – Mombasa: 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Mombasa – Nairobi: 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Nairobi – Mombasa: 3:00 PM – 8:08 PM
Mombasa – Nairobi: 3:00 PM – 8:08 PM
Nairobi – Mombasa: 10:00 PM – 3:35 AM
Mombasa – Nairobi: 10:00 PM – 3:35 AM
Every train departing its destination at 8:00 AM is usually an Inter-County Train Service, that is, the train sets off from Nairobi and makes the following stops: Athi River, Emali, Kibwezi, Mtito Andei, Voi, Maisenyi, and Mariakani before arriving in Miritini, Mombasa. The 8:00 AM train from Mombasa also makes the same stops on its way to Nairobi.
The 3:00 PM and 10:00 PM trains are usually express, that is, once they leave Nairobi or Mombasa they do not stop until they arrive at their destination.
How to Book SGR Tickets
Booking an SGR ticket can be done in three ways namely visiting the Madaraka Express Online Booking website, dialing the USSD short code *639#, or at the stations. Passengers are required to provide their full names and their ID numbers while booking online or via the USSD short code while the physical ID is required to book at the station. Kids who obviously do not have IDs will be required to use their parent’s or guardian’s ID. Identification documents will still be required at the station even for passengers who booked in advance. Once a booking is made, one receives a confirmation message on their phone which is used to print physical receipts at the station. This is why one is required to be at the station an hour before departure time.
It is advisable to always book SGR tickets in advance as early as possible. The SGR is quite popular especially during weekends and holidays and oftentimes it may be sold out. Booking an SGR ticket can be done as early as two months in advance and one booking can be for as many as 10 passengers.
Firstly, a ticket from Nairobi to Mombasa and vice versa whether using the express train or the inter-county train is KES 1,000 per adult, KES 1,000 for kids between the ages of 12 and 17.99 years, KES 500 for kids between the ages of 3 and 11.99 years and FREE for kids below 3 years. These charges are for economy class tickets.
For first-class the charges are as follows: KES 3,000 per adult, KES 3,000 for kids between the ages of 12 and 17.99 years, KES 1,500 for kids between the ages of 3 and 11.99 years, and FREE for kids below 3 years. Kids 3 years and above will be allocated their own seats both in first-class and economy class while kids below this age will have to be carried by their parents or guardians.
There are three main differences between economy class and first-class in the Madaraka Express. First-class coaches have fewer seats all facing forward consequently allowing for more comfort and a little more privacy. Economy class seating has seats facing each other. Secondly, the in-train services are much better in first-class. For example, orders made for drinks and food in first-class are quickly attended to while similar orders in economy class may take longer. This is perhaps due to the larger number of passengers making the orders in economy class. The last difference is that first-class ticket holders have a separate boarding lounge.
In-Train Services in the Madaraka Express
Traveling from Nairobi to Mombasa takes approximately five to six hours. One concern people may have is if they can get something to eat or drink during that time. Well, yes, and there are two ways of going about this. Firstly, at the boarding lounge at the station, there are cafes or canteens where one can grab snacks such as burgers, cakes, and hot dogs and beverages such as coffee, fruit juices, and sodas and bring them onto the train.
Secondly, aboard the train similar snacks and beverages including local beers are available for purchase. One caveat to note, however, is that orders take a long time to be fulfilled, or rather, the food cart takes a long time to get to you unless you’re seated close to the end of the coach.
For those wondering if they can bring their own food or drinks, this is strictly prohibited and such items will be confiscated upon discovery.
Other items such as perfumes, watches, and phone accessories are also sold aboard the train.
The Train Ride Itself
First, it’s important not to miss the train. Therefore, it is advisable to be at the SGR station one hour before the departure time. This gives one enough time to go through the security checks and print one’s ticket. There are several security checks which involve frisking, there are separate lines for men and women for this, x-ray screening for luggage, and sniffer dogs as well. Arriving at the station early also allows one enough time to buy foodstuff at the cafeteria if need be.
Once through all the security checks, one then has to locate one’s coach. This should be no hassle as the coaches are well-numbered with patrons on standby should you need any assistance. Once inside your coach, you then have to locate your seat as per the seat number indicated on your ticket.
The train is air-conditioned offering a cool ride all the way to your destination with details such as the temperature outside, the date and time, and speed of the train displayed in each coach. The train ride itself is quite smooth though one gets the sense the train is moving much slower than the indicated speed. On average, the train moves at about 100 km/h.
One can easily spot wild animals such as zebras and elephants especially as the train crosses the Tsavo area.
Transfers To and From the SGR Stations
For Nairobi residents, getting to the Syokimau SGR Station means using the traffic-packed Mombasa Road. In light of this, it is advisable to leave home early as the train waits for no man. Having someone drive you or using an Uber may be more convenient than pinning your hopes on Nairobi’s public transport system, i.e., matatus. If you are stuck in traffic and afraid that you might miss the train, you can easily stop a motorbike AKA bodaboda and use that to get to the station as motorbikes will better navigate the traffic jam. However, be ready to pay a high rate for the motorbike ride as the riders feel justified to charge as high as they want knowing that you cannot afford to miss the train. Alternatively, you can rent an Airbnb near the station one night before your travel date so as to eliminate the logistics of traveling early in the morning to catch the train
As for arriving back in Nairobi at 8:00 PM, there is a train service that operates between Syokimau and Nairobi at that time which might be a convenient way to get to the CBD. However, one has to move quickly as the train departs shortly after the SGR arrives in Nairobi. Using an Uber is an option but be warned that with so many people requesting Ubers, it may be quite hectic to get one.
In Mombasa, it is always advisable to pre-organize transfers from the SGR station to your destination, presumably a hotel. Your travel agent can help organize this. Check out our Instagram and Facebook pages for some of our best vacation packages to Mombasa with transfers. Alternatively, Ubers are also available as well as local taxis. Taxi drivers just show up at the station hoping to pick up passengers.
Traveling using the Madaraka Express should definitely be on your bucket list. It is recommended to go with family or friends and book your tickets together to ensure you are allocated seats next to each other. This way, the five or six hours fly by in a flash.