Friday, 2nd June 2023

Why rail sector remains moribund, has no profit in 59 years

By Gloria Nwafor
02 February 2023   |   4:15 am
Despite rekindled efforts to revive the rail sector, there are fears that the high-end infrastructure might continue to operate at a loss.

• Over 4km of tracks stolen
Despite rekindled efforts to revive the rail sector, there are fears that the high-end infrastructure might continue to operate at a loss.

President General of the Nigeria Union of Railway Workers (NUR), Innocent Ajiji, said though the sector has seen pockets of improvements, the government was yet to consider the right policies for profitability in the last 59 years.

Recall that the Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Sambo, lately, said the Federal Government was fully committed to developing the nation’s railway transportation sector to provide cheaper, faster, safer and complement other modes of transportation.

Sambo said railway transportation is practically the “commonwealth of the masses all over the world as it provides the most important linkage inter-modal transportation system”.

Ajiji, however, regretted that the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) last declared profit in 1964, but the woes might continue with over four kilometres of rail tracks now stolen by rail thieves.

It was learnt that the failure to operationalise the narrow gauge tracks have made them easy prey for thieves, both for pilfering and vandalisation.

Ajiji said now that the country is gravitating from narrow gauge to standard gauge, the effect couldn’t really be felt without significant contribution of the narrow gauge, because the bulk of the corridors it passes are existing corridors.

Noting that the standard gauge is modern and appeals to present day modes of transportation, it however, doesn’t call for abandoning the narrow gauge.

He said the best the government could do was to single out railways as an autonomous entity, with a line of salary regime that would be independent of any challenge impeding development.

He disclosed that for the past 20 years, the government did not purchase any new locomotive for the narrow gauge, which has wider coverage and to keep the tracks busy from thieves.

Lately, security operatives have since been arresting rail track thieves. For instance, two people in Lagos State were on Monday arrested by the Nigeria Police Force.

The Lagos State Command’s spokesman, SP Benjamin Hundeyin, who confirmed the arrest in a statement said, the thieves were intercepted in a Mitsubishi Lancer car conveying vandalised railway tracks.

Ajiji said the pilfering would continue because trains are not running on the narrow gauge.

“We have a narrow gauge that runs across states in Nigeria, but as we speak, there is no single locomotive running on the narrow gauge. Government has abandoned the narrow gauge.

“Government only focused on standard gauge, which does not cover up to 1,000km and every Nigerian believed the railway was back to life. That is not true. From Lagos to Ibadan is 140km, Abuja to Kaduna is 145km, the only longest distance is from Warri to Itakpe, which is close to 300km. But the narrow gauge covers 4,875km that transits across almost all the states. Imagine if we have a fleet of trains running on that narrow gauge,” he said.

Ajiji said the incessant attacks and accidents on the railway lines have pulled the union backward and a very strong blow on the union.

Part of it, he said, caused their revenue to drop drastically. “Because when the Abuja-Kaduna train service was attacked in April last year, it made passenger service patronage both in Lagos and Warri-Itakpe line drop drastically. That further brought down our revenue generation. Before the attack, we were generating close to N500 million monthly but now, we can’t even generate up to N50 million. This is our fear and situation.

“Government should buy 1,000 locomotives for the narrow gauge, 2,000 coaches and 2,000 wagons. By now every state capital and major cities are supposed to be connected to the rail line. “
These will make our roads last longer, because our trains can carry over 100 trailers and tankers at a time,” he said.