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Kenya revives its colonial rail system to meet its modern needs

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“When I heard that they were bringing a train, I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “A neighbor told me it was true, when I first used this route, just a month ago, it was my first time to be on a train.

“It is so different from the matatu, it’s comfortable, there’s no hassle, no loud noise, no jams, no pollution. There was no way I could read my Bible on the matatu. I arrive at work fresh, and it’s quicker. I have an extra hour in my day.”

Beside her, Stella Vanessa, 21, and Tracy Nderitu, 22, colleagues at a real estate agency, shared a vanity mirror to apply their make up.

“It’s great, that’s all I need to say,” said Nderitu. “We needed this thing very much, it’s there in every other country, it was about time we had it here in Kenya. The only question is, why did they wait for so long?”

In fact, revolutionary as taking the train seems to these commuters, the rails they’re riding on are older even than the country of Kenya itself. They are the reason Nairobi exists.

Way back in the late 19th century, ox-drawn wagons were used to ferry raw materials from the interior for export via to ships waiting at Kenya’s coast.

Adventurous British businesses flourishing in neighboring Uganda successfully petitioned the parliament in London to build a rail line to speed up the 900-mile journey.

The equivalent of $394 million was allocated for the audacious project, which would include carving railroads up and down the sometimes 45° escarpments of the Rift Valley that slices through in Kenya’s center.

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