The International Steam Pages

Steam Revival in Kenya 2001-2006

This page charts, in roughly chronological order, the events from 2001 to 2006 which saw steam return to the mainline in Kenya, with initial pictures of the restored and other recently repainted locomotives. Click here for reports on each of the active fleet - 2409, 3020 Nyaturu and 5918 Mount Gelai.

The Railway Museum in Nairobi was established many years ago, its principal exhibits have always been a selection of steam locomotives from the (former) Kenya Uganda Railway, latterly East African Railways which became Kenya Railways on the break up of the federation. It was not included in the privatisation of the railways and seems to exist as part of the rump of the original Kenya Railways. 

Since 2001, first 5918, then 3020 and latterly 2409 have been restored to working condition and all three locomotives are kept securely in the workshops. However, with the privatisation of railway operation in 2006, there are no current plans to operate them again until the railway is running in the kind of sound manner evident to those of us who were lucky enough to have seen it working in steam days. If you are interested in developments here consider joining the East African Newsgroup - (29th October 2002).

These four pictures have been 'borrowed' at Trevor's suggestion to show just how things progressed.

2409 and 3020 together in steam in Nairobi in late July (added 29th August 2006).


Secondly, 3020 at Kikuyu on a Naivasha excursion:

Next 5918 at Athi river waiting to return on a charter train:

A start on the much needed repainting of the museum locomotives, the first candidate was TR 301. Now 6006 has received the same treatment  (5th January 2004).


On 29th October 2004, 5918 revisited its former home, the Railway Museum in Nairobi as part of the annual 'Know Kenya' lecture of the Museum Society of Kenya. Graham Roberts has provided this magnificent image of the coming together of the two 59s (plus a corner of 6006) - updated 2nd November 2004.

Museum meet

Graeme Wall's website contains some current information on Kenya Railways, (posted 13th February 2005). Kevin Patience tells me that Tribal 2-8-4 3123 'Bavuma' was been moved into the museum area after being stranded outside for several years (30th December 2002). Elsewhere in Kenya, in late 2003, the Kisumu-Butere branch was reported about to have service resumed after several years; a daily passenger train would run from Saturday 15th November. Nairobi-Kisumu passenger trains were planned to resume before the end of the year. The Nairobi-Nanyuki branch has a weekly passenger service, leaving Nairobi at 0800 on Saturday, arriving Nanyuki at 1600, and returning on Sunday. Accommodation is third class only, and the single fare is KSh. 130 (less than two US dollars). I never heard whether these plans were implemented - a visit to would be the best way to check!


In late 2004, 2409 was moved from the museum to the works for potential return to service; not only is it a delightful period piece, it will be relatively cheap to operate. Through 2005, 2409 made spasmodic progress but when a small group of enthusiasts had a whip round to assist the restoration by procuring key missing parts, the final steps became possible. A major step forward was taken on 18th June 2006 when the loco was lit up for the first time for many years, but it was still some way from being a runner (22nd June 2006). This is 2409 in steam on the Nairobi Works traverser on 2nd July 2006. Since then a couple of test runs have been made and the locomotive is now effectively a 'runner' (24th August 2006).


3020 Nyaturu

Graham Roberts (25th January 2003) told me that work on 3020 was making good progress and the rods were going back on the loco. 3020 was steamed again for the first time at the Kenya Railways workshops on 19th May 2003. Rowena Buxton of East African Steam Safaris adds (20th May 2003): "Joseph Kamau and his team have done a great job. Some leaks and other minor problems were identified which will be fixed before 3020 can move under its own steam, however, the engine looked and sounded fine and it was good to hear the twin whistles after fifteen years of silence. After a line test in the next couple of days 3020 is expected to be returned to the shed for a full repaint in the original EAR maroon colour." This is Graham Roberts' picture (22nd May 2003). Subsequently, 3020 ran an excursion to Naivasha on 20th December 2003. You can read Graham Roberts' illustrated report which also contains some background information. (21st December 2003).

Tsavo bridge

3020 made a successful test run to Uplands on a revenue earning freight on 5th March 2004. Read Geoff Warren's report (11th March 2004). Read Geoff Warren's report with Graham Roberts' pictures of the 13th March 2004 trip to Naivasha, (1st April 2004). Trevor Heath has sent me Geoff Warren's picture of 3020 backing on to its train in Nairobi in March 2004 which speaks volumes of the progress made in the last 3 years (12th September 2004).

Tsavo bridge

3020 was sent to Naivasha for a few days filming on 19th September 2004 which would have been interesting to watch as a 'real train' was sent there for it, diesel hauled, 3020 went up with a minimal load which at least allowed her to gallop along. Previously, the saga of 3020 continued (27th July 2004) courtesy of Graham Roberts, who reports that the last of the current series of excursions ran to Naivasha on 10th July 2004. The journey was without incident and some 20 passengers travelled, although the weather was not kind. I then added that 'It is unlikely that with such modest loadings that there will be any further such steam specials in the near future, although it should not be assumed that the revival is over'. Whereupon a further excursion for 14th August 2004 was announced and then cancelled... (12th September 2004). Joe Kamau and his team have done a grand job under difficult circumstances.

Further to the other reports 3020 ran a successful trips to Naivasha in January 2005, 12th February 2005, 12th March 2005, the latter carrying over 60 fare paying passengers, and again on 9th April 2005. For a while, it became a regular monthly event and local reports indicated that 3020 was as in good condition internally as externally then. The Naivasha excursion on 14th May 2005 was cancelled at the last moment when 3020 derailed coming 'off shed' - the excursions on 11th June 2005 ran successfully and the next run was planned on 9th July 2005 (updated 25th July 2005) but was cancelled owing to few bookings in the then current damp weather, although the August train ran. In early September, 3020 went 'up country' on a successful proving run to Kisumu and back, the first steam over Mau Summit for some 25 or more years (7th September 2005). A further Naivasha excursion was run on 12th November 2005 and another scheduled for 10th December 2005 (13th December 2005). The January excursion was cancelled as 3020 needs some repairs, they obviously worked because the run on February ran so well that the train had to be held for lunch to be completed. (12th February 2006). Various problems caused the March and April excursions to be cancelled but the next Naivasha excursion on 13th May 2006  ran as scheduled, on time and with 82 passengers. (18th May 2006). What happened in June 2006 seems to have escaped my alcohol befuddled brain, but the last ever pre-privatisation Naivasha excursion ran on July 22nd 2006 (amended 24th August 2006). Chris Lewis' picture below shows 3020 en route to Kisumu on the RTC tour in September 2005 - more information is contained in the 5918 section below. 

5918 Mount Gelai

After a number of years in the Railway Museum, 5918 was transferred in August 2001 to the main Workshops where Shop 006 was cleared for it amongst a lot of media interest and grass roots support evident throughout the railway. Here a group of retired railway workers enthusiastically set to work on the locomotive although there were serious problems with the initial project. It was displayed (in steam) in Nairobi station on 25th October 2001 and after a test run to Athi River on 1st November 2001 it worked an excursion to Mombasa later that month where it stayed for several months. Everything froze until a cash-strapped KR finally woke up to the potential value of Mount Gelai and returned the locomotive to Nairobi for further fettling. A run which included hauling a revenue earning freight from Konza to Nairobi was made on 4th September 2002, further excursions are documented below.

Some time ago I reported that this new company to operate steam excursions has been formed by by a local group in Kenya including respected and long-standing railway enthusiasts (14th November 2002). There was a steam passenger "route and organisational proving" excursion from Nairobi to Mombassa hauled by 5918 Mount Gelai on November 23rd 2002. 43 paying passengers made a successful trip arriving slightly late owing to an unrelated derailment.

I posted the first new newsletter (12th December 2002) of East African Steam Safaris Ltd which includes a report of their first trip with 5918 in November 2002. They now have their own website (added 19th January 2003, but reported dead 17th November 2003). Also available (12th December 2002) are their proposals for a further trip in February 2003, which I am told passed off successfully (2nd March 2003). In this case a two day (February 15th/16th 2003) return to Kibwezi, the return trip being the first revenue earning uphill steam passenger run on this line a 59 for many years.

5918 was pressed into service for a 700 ton revenue freight (cement wagons from Athi River to Nairobi) on March 3rd 2005 and performed faultlessly. Kenya Railways marketed (at rather short notice) an Easter excursion from Nairobi to Mombasa with 5918 (outbound 24th March 2005, inbound 28th March 2005). I understand that the locomotive performed faultlessly but the whole trip was hamstrung by operational problems on the railway. But overall the situation here looks very promising and I believe contracts for a steam enthusiasts' tour are in place for next year. (The above updated 12th April 2005). The first major tour groups from outside the country will visit shortly (in September and October) and positioning movements will offer additional opportunities to ride for those who cannot afford the full programmes (which I believe are fully booked anyway) - the revenue so generated will come in very useful (25th July 2005). 5918 successfully operated the downhill positioning run in mid-September 2005 (added 14th September 2005). 5918 got the tour group as far as Mtito Andei hauling the train back for the Railway Touring Company group as part of their East African Tour. Alas Kenya Railways then sprung one of their classic derailments which caused the charter to be aborted and the passengers bussed on to Nairobi. 5918 was then slow to return to Nairobi (carrying the vital oil pump) which caused 3020 to be delayed on its journey to Nakuru (19th September 2005). Thereafter, the trip seems to have gone off very well with 3020 proving itself to be a capable performer. Final return to base was on 24th September 2005 (added 4th October 2005). Hopefully lessons will be learned and the repeat tour will be 'tweaked' to build in a bit more recovery time for the kind of incidents which can happen on any single track railway, particularly one that is operated in a less than perfect way. A report of both East African sections has been posted on the RTC site (17th October 2005). These are pictures from the first trip courtesy of Chris Lewis. 

The second train tour ran (information updated 24th October 2005), once again operating problems and other incidents took the gloss off the trip (read Steven Pratt's report, 30th October 2005). A fair amount of late running and diesel piloting and haulage occurred. Potential customers of future tours must accept that it would be unrealistic to expect a 100% success rate on the kind of ambitious schedules which were advertised for these two tours. Nevertheless, on those days when things went well, the ambience must have been overwhelming...... 5918 has not run since then and is thought to have suffered some damage to the boiler owing to the use of inappropriate water supplies, now 3020 is in good health, it will be worked on (12th February 2006).

Rob Dickinson