New commuter train launched in Nairobi

A new commuter train has been launched in Nairobi – the first of its kind since independence in 1963.

The train will run between the city center and the suburb of Syokimau, where Kenya has built its first railway station in more than 80 years.

The service is intended to ease traffic congestion in Nairobi, one of the fastest-growing African cities with a population of about three million.

President Mwai Kibaki was the first commuter on the new train.

He traveled back to Nairobi along with his officials, while ordinary passengers were banned for security reasons.

The first paying customers are expected to take the return trip to Syokimau.

BBC’s Wanyama Chebusiri in Nairobi says the new service will be much faster then the existing dilapidated trains and will run on a separate track.

‘New eight-lane highway’

The 16.5-km (10-mile) ride from Syokimau, in the east, to Nairobi is expected to take 15 minutes, while a car journey during rush-hour could take up to two hours, our reporter says.

The new station at Syokimau is modern – it will issue passengers with electronic tickets to swipe at turnstiles and there are also large screens to give train times, he adds.

The journey is the cheapest way of getting to central Nairobi, costing about $2.50 (£1.50).

Mr Kibaki has inaugurated the service, and is expected to be the first passenger to take the ride.

The launch is part of the government’s ambitious Vision 2030 initiative to improve much-neglected infrastructure over the next 18 years, our reporter says.

A Chinese company has just built Kenya’s first eight-lane highway, linking Nairobi to the densely populated industrial town of Thika, about 40 km away.

It was built at a cost of about 28bn shillings ($330m; £200m).

Although the highway has not been officially launched, motorists are already using it.

The government says its next rail project will be to link Nairobi’s city center to the eastern residential area of Kayole.

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