The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) has made the journey from Kenya’s Capital Nairobi to the port city of Mombasa easier. The tugging of the locomotive engine cutting across the Tsavo wilderness and descend towards the Indian Ocean, is a thing of beauty. The coaches are almost always spotless, with smiling staff welcoming you aboard. To an outsider, the Chinese crew on board cuts the image of humble servants, ready to serve. They will hardly say a word whenever top government officials convene press conferences in their presence to celebrate another of their milestones. But beneath this shiny veneer is a tale of pain, anguish and broken dreams for a multitude of Kenyans who feel trapped on the train that ably fits the moniker Orient Express. On it, Chinese nationals have created a small kingdom in which they run roughshod over Kenyan workers who say they are experiencing neo-colonialism, racism and blatant discrimination as the taxpayer foots the Sh30 million a day bill for the train, which loosely translates to Sh1 billion at the end of every month. Investigations by the Sunday Standard have found a huge contrast between what happens when in public glare and what really goes on beneath the shiny surface when the Chinese -- masters of the SGR -- retire to their apartments and restaurant. Interviews with many of those working within the trains reveal an unwritten rule on the things that Kenyans can share with their Chinese masters. For a start, they do not share tables at their staff restaurant. Though, it is not printed in black and white, Chinese staff would never sit on the same table with Kenyans and Kenyans are not expected to join their tables either. An assistant locomotive driver says this divide runs to the staff vans as well where even if only one Chinese is on board, Kenyans will not use them when time for drop-offs come. “You cannot board a van that drops us in the evening even if there’s only one Chinese on board. You will have to wait,” he says. More excesses are allowed on the freight trains where there is little visibility. Chinese staff are allowed excesses such as smoking while in the locomotive and use of mobile phones, crimes that will get their Kenyan counterparts fired. “We do not have washrooms in the driver’s cab, so some relieve themselves on the track lines,” he said. We have seen images of one of the drivers, who could not wait to go to the washrooms, literally going for a long call next to the train in the open. But what is likely to alarm conservationists and wildlife activists is the number of wildlife that are being run over by the train as it snakes its way from Mombasa and back.
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