18 July 2011
Last updated at 11:06
From Mombasa on the Indian Ocean across Kenya to Kisumu on Lake Victoria runs the 'lunatic line' railway. It is so named because of the project's huge financial and human cost. For each of its 580 miles, four workers died - an average of 38 each month.
Construction began in Mombasa in 1895. Work was hampered by storms, strikes, local hostility, disease and lion attacks. During erection of the Tsavo bridge, big cats mauled 28 workers. (Picture courtesy of the Kenya Railways Museum)
The last peg on the line was driven in on 20 December 1901, by Mrs Florence Preston, wife of Ronald Preston - the chief platelayer of the railway at Kisumu. The city was previously known as Port Florence in her honour. Inset: Port Florence on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria. (Picture courtesy of the Kenya Railways Museum)
The line was a huge logistical achievement and became strategically and economically vital for Kenya, linking the Indian Ocean with Lake Victoria and the East African interior. Branch lines were built and the railway became an essential part of safari adventures in the early decades of the 20th Century.
Between 1993 and 2000, 182 people died in four accidents on the line. In the face of heavy financial losses, the line was closed to passenger traffic for a time. When the line marked its centenary in 2001, its future seemed uncertain.
Tourism is now helping to revive its fortunes. Passenger trains run again from Mombasa to Nairobi and the onward line to Kisumu has been re-opened. You can travel overnight from Nairobi to either Mombasa or Kisumu and back. Each leg of the journey takes around 15 hours compared with a two-hour flight.
The first class fare from Nairobi to Mombasa in Kenyan shillings is KES 3,660 ($40.75, £25.30) which includes a cabin. Those on a tight budget can travel third class for KES 460 ($5.10, £3.20).
Plastic crockery has replaced the silver service in the restaurant car, where dinner would be served shortly after leaving Nairobi at around 7pm. Trains travel slowly to avoid derailments.
Plans for a new high-speed line were announced in 2009 by the Kenya Railways Corporation. This would reduce the journey time from Nairobi to Mombasa to three hours and boost business prospects across the region.
The history of the 'lunatic line' is documented at the Kenya Railways Museum next to Nairobi station, with steam engines and railway memorabilia on display.
One popular exhibit at the museum is Ryall's coach, which is named after a railway official who was dragged out of the coach by a man-eating lion on the night of 6 June 1900. His travelling companions escaped. Ayisha Yahya presents The Lunatic Line on Radio 4 at 1100 on Monday 18 July or afterwards online at bbc.co.uk/radio4.