Standard Guage Railway (SGR) line engine drivers Wendy Kathambi (left) and Alice Mugure in one of the locomotive engines during a training session at the SGR Nairobi Training College, April 23, 2017. [PHOTO BY GIDEON MAUNDU/STANDARD].
At least seven women are expected to drive the new (SGR) trains after completing their course in China.
They are part of a group of Kenyans students the China Road & Bridges Corporation (CRBC), the SGR contractor, sponsored to undertake a railway course at China’s Baoji Railway Technical College.
Two of those The Standard spoke to yesterday said they had been equipped with the necessary skills to steer the locomotives.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to launch the SGR trains on June 1.
Wendy Kathambi, 26, and 27-year-old Alice Mugure Gitau said they were happy with their achievements and ready to serve their nation with their skills.
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The two were part of the team that took part in the inaugural test-drive in March, which saw them drive passenger trains at the speed of 105 kilometres per hour.
The train travelled from Nairobi South Passenger station to Sultan Hamud and back. The same train shall be cruising at an average speed of 120 kilometres per hour.
“We were seven students in our class and were taken through many lessons, including light diesel locomotive maintenance,” Alice said.
She sought to dispel the notion that some jobs are meant for men. She said women can drive trains, just the same way men do.
“We were all born with capacities to perform all duties. I believe I can achieve anything is set my mind on. One can become they wish to become,” says Alice whose background is procurement.
“After completing the procurement course, I undertook a Bachelor’s degree in Chinese Language and Culture. The course entailed a six-month session in Kenya and one year in China. I was later hired by a Chinese firm as a translator at the Railway Training Institute (RTI). It was while there that I learnt of the SGR training programme and enrolled for the course,” Alice said.
Wendy says joining the men-dominated sector has always been her desire and she is happy that she finally achieved it.
“This is what gives me satisfaction after developing interest in new technology as far as railway development is concerned. It is a pretty new field and Kenya does not have adequate manpower to drive the rail transport,” she said.
“I was undertaking a higher diploma in Electrical Engineering at the Railway Training Institute (RTI). When the SGR training programme started, I opted for it,” says Wendy who holds a diploma in Electrical Engineering.
Kenya Railways Managing Director Atanas Maina said he was excited about the programme. “We have young Kenyan women engineers in the project. We want to expand the same into operations and maintenance in line with government’s directive. It is also well spelled out in performance contracting guidelines,” Maina said.
He added: “This is the first time in the history of Kenya to have women taking charge of locomotive operations. They trainees have done well and I know they will do a good job.”
One of the areas the trainees will focus on after returning to Kenya is the practical aspect of the training.
Experts say for one to quality to operate a passenger train, they must undergo a three-year training.
Alice said the fact that the training was carried out in English made it easy for them. “The training was largely practical and this made it very interesting. We were taught how to drive a locomotive. We also had lessons on maintenance,” she said.
After fulfilling all the requirements, the driver and his assistant must be issued with a locomotive key and walkie-talkies before setting out. This is after the dispatcher has stamped the driver’s licence.