Kenyan youth John Pius says it is a great honor to be accorded the chance to drive a modern train, and training and mentorship by Chinese experts have paved the way for him to attain that feat.
NAIROBI, May 24 (Xinhua) -- Growing up at a rural hamlet in south-eastern Kenya where more than a century-old meter-gauge railway snakes through, John Pius used to marvel at the sight of locomotives making a steep climb toward far-away destinations.
In February, he joined the ranks of the first independent Kenyan locomotive drivers and has been shuttling the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) passenger train that operates along the 120-km Nairobi-Suswa line which was launched on Oct. 16, 2019.
The 32-year-old mechanical engineering major in 2016 began training for a locomotive driver crash course one year ahead of the launch of the China-built 480-km Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR). Pius was put under the tutelage of a Chinese expert, who taught him the basics of shuttling a modern passenger train, as part of efforts to promote Sino-Kenya technical skills transfer.
John Pius drives a train in Nairobi, Kenya, March 25, 2022. (Xinhua/Long Lei)
During a recent interview with Xinhua, Pius said that courtesy of the rigorous training by the Chinese expert, he feels competent enough to drive the SGR locomotives, praised for revolutionizing travel and commerce in Kenya.
"Having been with the Chinese trainers since 2016, I have learned useful techniques like driving the locomotive, dealing with faults and how to relate with people," said Pius.
According to Pius, two passenger and one cargo train operate daily along the Nairobi-Suswa line, all shuttled by local drivers who have benefitted from training by Chinese technicians.
"I am happy to be among the first independent locomotive drivers. Even my family is happy. They are happy with the SGR management for giving me this chance," said Pius.
So far, there are ten independent drivers along the Nairobi-Suswa SGR corridor, divided evenly for the passenger and freight train services, according to Pius.
He disclosed that four other local independent drivers are charged with shuttling cargo to the Inland Container Depot near the resort town of Naivasha, about 100 km the northwest of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.
Pius said he felt it was a great honor to be accorded the chance to drive a modern train, noting that training and mentorship by the Chinese expert paved way for the attainment of that feat.
"This is a golden chance," said Pius, adding that he has learned theoretical and practical aspects of driving a modern locomotive.
Hellen Mugogwa, a kindergarten teacher who chaperoned young children during a holiday trip to Suswa was in jovial spirits as John Pius steered the locomotive along the picturesque corridor, adding that she had faith in the competence of local drivers.
Brian Kemboi, an assistant locomotive driver along the Nairobi-Suswa SGR corridor, was of the view that the training he has undergone since 2018 under a Chinese instructor, has prepared him adequately for the demanding task ahead. The 28-year-old electrical engineering major confessed that his dream of shuttling locomotives one day was nurtured at a young age, having watched them pass through his native village in north-western Kenya.
Brian Kemboi checks the engine while the train is running in Nairobi, Kenya, March 25, 2022. (Xinhua/Long Lei)
Kemboi started training to become a locomotive driver in 2018, courtesy of a partnership between China Road and Bridge Corporation and his former college, the Rift Valley Technical Institute.
"The training is quite intensive. It involves theory and how to solve a technical fault, safety is also a critical component," said Kemboi who has since February acted as an independent assistant driver for the Nairobi-Suswa passenger train.
He said the experience at the locomotive's cabin has been exciting, stressing that he looked forward to mastering all the techniques of shuttling it along the scenic Nairobi-Suswa route.
According to Kemboi, even passengers along the Nairobi-Suswa corridor have expressed confidence in the ability of the youthful independent locomotive drivers.
Kevin Saruni, a 27-year-old businessman and a regular Nairobi-Suswa train service passenger, said that local drivers had proved competent enough to steer the locomotive, with zero accidents and smooth rides.
"Since the local drivers took over shuttling of the Nairobi-Suswa passenger train, I can honestly admit they met my expectations. The rides are smooth and comfortable," said Saruni.
On average, the independent locomotive drivers underwent a mandatory six months of intensive training, followed by close supervision by the Chinese technicians while in the cabin lasting years before they were allowed to shuttle the modern train service on their own in February.
John Pius (Front) and Brian Kemboi pose for a group photo on a train in Kajiado, Kenya, March 25, 2022. (Xinhua/Long Lei)
John Mungai, a 31-year-old mechanical engineering major, said that shuttling the Nairobi-Suswa freight service since February was the fulfillment of a long-cherished dream. Mungai admitted that training by the Chinese instructor was good, thanks to his engineering background, noting that he has not encountered any accident while shuttling the cargo locomotive.
"At least the training has enabled me to handle the huge responsibility with ease. So far, I have been able to deliver containers to the Naivasha Inland Container Depot without a major hitch," said Mungai, adding that courtesy of the training, he is able to handle safety issues at ease and localization of SGR operations have benefitted local youth in terms of jobs and skills acquisition. ■