The Pain Kenyans Go Through to Book a Madaraka Express Train Trip

Image by Micheal Khateli

There is no denying that the arrival of the Madaraka Express SGR (standard gauge railway) Train marks one of Kenya’s biggest projects to date. While the train is currently serving Nairobi and Mombasa with fair prices (compared to road), the SGR, just like any other system is not perfect. Passengers are forced to jump some high hurdles when booking seats, although the SGR management has promised or is in the process of addressing these complaints. For the moment, Kenyans are enduring a great deal of pain when performing mobile booking.

Good luck having Madaraka’s customer care team pick up you phone call during the first attempt.

At the moment, this is one of the two ways (the other is manual booking at the station) customers can reach the Madaraka Express SGR Train’s booking department. You have to call them, give them your travel details and pick a cabin of your liking. Afterward, you are told the amount to pay. Then, you will receive payment information that is completed via Safaricom’s Lipa Na M-Pesa. Standard procedure – only that it is not, because we have had reports of customers making numerous attempts before their phones are picked.

This is an issue that can only be explained in one way; the train has a shortage of customer care agents. Being a multi-billion project, one would expect a robust system that is fully equipped in all departments to counter such setbacks. It is frustrating to be met by dropped calls when you are in need of a service that people expect to be seamless. Additionally, who expects a system that should be technologically advanced to use telephones to book a ticket? Are we in the steam engine days?

If your call goes through, but disconnects amidst the booking process, it will not be returned.

This issue takes us back to the dark days at the beginning of the 21st century that was plagued by poor network coverage owing to underdeveloped infrastructure. It is in that period that even a call to a customer care agent was a mess (I remember Safaricom users had to call an agent to confirm airtime balance – and that call was charged as well. Tough times), but we are living in slightly better times because we have customer care agents (in other companies) who call users back to solve a query. In comparison to Madaraka’s customer care department, returning a disconnected call is a concept they are yet to grasp because people are complaining that their calls are not returned, which forces them to repeat the entire exercise.

Did we mention that the customer care number is not toll free and booking is limited to 7am – 4pm?

The booking department does not always follow customer request(s).

Let’s say a family is travelling, and this is a family with hyperactive toddlers that need to be restrained by parental/guardian care. The person doing the booking will have to secure seats for the family at the station because using Madaraka’s customer care department may not remember to put a family in the same carriage.

Complaints have been forwarded by parents who, upon requesting for seats that are next to each other, have found their family members (including children) in different carriages. Worse, seats are confirmed once payment is processed, and their position cannot be swapped because you have already paid.

Other issues plaguing the booking process include delayed issuance of tickets because printing is only done upon arrival at the terminus. Why should this be the case? Wouldn’t you rather do manual booking at the station?

Travelers are also falling prey to unscrupulous ticket sellers who inflate their pricing because the system makes it so easy to obtain them (tickets have no a passenger’s details). At the same time, these cons are taking advantage of the lax booking system to serve a niche that would want to avoid some of the issues addressed above.

Lastly, the train company started issuing return tickets a couple of weeks ago, meaning passengers had to redo the booking process for the journey back to their homes.

An online booking system, which is yet to go live, can remedy most of these problems. We will inform you when it launches, and comment on whether it meets the bare minimums of a functional system.

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Kenn Abuya is a friend of technology, with bias in enterprise and mobile tech. Share your thoughts, tips and hate mail at [email protected]


  1. As a Kenyan I want to say Kenya Railways CANNOT fail us.We won’t let them make such a beneficial project fail!..It needs to work,and they should work on the above issues!

  2. […] The Madaraka Express Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) has been around for some time and in that period, we have covered a couple of its aspects in terms of what they offer and their set of setbacks. Some of these merits have manifested themselves in many forms, including fair prices between the two cities where the train operates. Compared to existing public transport systems, you will get to your destinations faster using Madaraka. There are other benefits, including picking a cabin that matches the content of your wallet, to mention a few. On the other hand, booking for a trip has proved hectic thanks to several reasons that we aired in this post. […]

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