Wendy Kathambi, Alice Mugure, Elizabeth Wanjala, and Shalom Njeri are among the eight ladies who made history in Kenya. They finally broke the monotony after about a century of train operation which was run entirely by men. These ladies are part of the team of 65 operators who make daily train trips with the locomotives which have a capacity of over 2000 passengers, to and from Nairobi and Mombasa.
The Standard Gauge Railway was officially launched on the first of June 2017 during Kenya’s Madaraka day by the current President Uhuru Kenyatta. It is two of the eight ladies who steered the train with the President and other citizens from Mombasa to Nairobi during its launch. It has significantly elevated Kenya’s transport infrastructure. It has also been of great convenience to Kenyans since it provides comfortable, elegant, quick and cheap services. It has also increased women empowerment in Kenya by not only providing jobs for the eight female train operators but also other hundreds who work as coach attendants and many other jobs in various termini and stations.
The drive, especially the railroad switch seems viciously complicated, however, according to the female train drivers that is not the hardest challenge. They say controlling the speed is the most difficult task while driving these massive inventions. That is why before getting the job you must have succeeded in the Safe Concentration and Attention Tests which require doing a series of tasks quickly, correctly and in the right order. Most applicants fail this test; this is why most Kenyans find these ladies phenomenal hence they trended a lot once information and photos of them surfaced on social media. Experts say that for one to qualify for this job, they must have undergone at least three years of training.
They are all former Chinese Communication students, hence they were commissioned by the China Road and Bridge Corporation to train in China. All the eight went for to the Baoji Railway Technician College in Shaanxi, China for training. They have mastered all the operational fundamentals. They also underwent the inaugural test during the month before the launch where they drove passengers at a speed of 105km/h from the Nairobi South Passenger Train Station all the way to Sultan Hamoud and back. The train can move at a maximum speed of 132km/h, however, these expertly trained ladies are expected to drive at a speed of 120km/h.
They have been trained not only to steer and control the speed of the train but also in maintenance. After fulfilling all the requirements, the operators and their assistants are handed with locomotive keys and walkie-talkies. This is after the dispatcher has been stamped with the driver’s /operator license. The presence of ladies in this male-dominated domain has enlightened not only Kenyans but the world at large to dismiss the assumption that there are jobs that only men can perform better. This will, hopefully, inspire women in Kenya and beyond to venture into other male-dominated jobs and territories.
“We were all born with capacities to perform all duties. I believe I can achieve anything I set my mind on. One can become what they wish to become,” says Alice Mugure.