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After 251 days, Abuja-Kaduna rail service resumes amid N6.6b losses

By Odita Sunday, Joke Falaju (Abuja), Benjamin Alade (Lagos) and Murtala Adewale (Kano)
05 December 2022   |   4:30 am
As the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) resumes operation on the Abuja-Kaduna train service today, the Federal Government may have lost a whopping N6.6 billion to the 251 days shutdown following the March 28 terrorist attack on the train in Rigasa, Kaduna State.

A security man stand on guard inside a moving train during a test run/planned resumption of the Abuja-Kaduna train services, on November 27, 2022. This is coming after 8 months after the services was suspended due to terrorist attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train on March 28, 2022, kidnapping 168 passengers and killing eight others. (Photo by Olukayode Jaiyeola/NurPhoto) (Photo by Olukayode Jaiyeola / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP)

• NRC: FG only lost N113m to Abuja-Kaduna railway closure
• Fare hike takes effect today.
• We increased fares due to diesel cost, improved security, says Okhiria
• IGP assures of safety, deploys personnel on route, operational coaches
• Experts insist not safe to travel by train unless there is aerial surveillance, armed drone patrol
• Abuja-Kaduna highway to be completed first quarter 2023, minister assures

As the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) resumes operation on the Abuja-Kaduna train service today, the Federal Government may have lost a whopping N6.6 billion to the 251 days shutdown following the March 28 terrorist attack on the train in Rigasa, Kaduna State.

The Guardian conservative estimate of loss is coming a day after the Managing Director of NRC, Fidet Okhiria, said government lost about N113 million to inactivity on the route for over eight months.

While noting that many Nigerians also incurred losses indirectly due to the halt of operations on the route, Okhiria said: “The last time we checked that was between the months of February to August. We have lost about N113 million, using what we were earning between January and March as a working document.

“Although, when the trains were working, there were a lot of other businesses that were going on.
There were people selling on the train; there were people selling around the stations. So, those were indirect benefits and cost that have been lost to the economy. So, we should not only look at the naira and kobo that the railway would have made, but include all other losses by Nigerians.”

The Guardian breakdown of the amount lost to the suspension showed that NRC lost approximately N6.6 billion revenue that could have been raked from ticket sales.

Checks revealed that coaches plying the Abuja-Kaduna rail line have the capacity to carry between 900 and 1,000 passengers per trip. An average economy ticket before the suspension sold between N2,800 and N3,000, while VIP tickets sold for N6,000.

NRC makes a minimum of N2.7 million per trip at N3,000 a ticket and when added to the 124 VIP passengers at N6,000 per ticket, the sum total per trip is about N3.3 million.

The Abuja-Kaduna Train Service (AKTS) operates eight trips daily, which gives about N26.2 million daily. When multiplied by 251 days, it gives about N6.6 billion.

The Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) also corroborated this finding when it revealed that NRC recorded about 72 per cent loss of revenue in the second quarter of 2022 as their revenue dropped by N1.48 billion in the second quarter (Q2) of 2022.

The data, published on its verified website, said while 953,099 passengers used the railway in the first quarter of 2022, the number of railway passengers recorded in the second quarter was 422,393.

NRC management had often claimed that the losses incurred by the cooperation from the suspension of AKTS was minimal. When it tried to resume operation in May, it was later suspended after families of victims kidnapped on the ill-fated train threatened to disrupt operation until all their loved ones were rescued.

When the new Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Sambo assumed office, he assured victims’ families that government would not resume operation until all their loved ones in captivity were released.

He also assured that the service would only resume when all necessary security equipment to guarantee passengers’ safety are installed in all the stations and on the rail tracks.

After the release of the remaining victims in October, the Minister again reiterated that the service would only resume when the safety of passengers could be guaranteed.

However, Sambo, during a tour of the Abuja-Kaduna train with newsmen, last week, said with confidence that they are ready for resumption, though he added a caveat that it is only God that could guarantee one’s safety.

He said: “Part of the measures put in place is the ticketing. Security starts from ticketing. You cannot buy a ticket unless you have a valid phone number and the National Identification Number (NIN). If you are a foreigner, there must be means of government-backed identification.”

He said for minors, an adult could only register not more than four minors before using the train.

“Another visible change people will notice is the increase in number of security personnel and some of them will not even be wearing uniform to guarantee the safety of the travelling public. There are other sensitive equipment that we have deployed that I will not be mentioning.

“Also, on every journey the train will be monitored on a screen and the train driver can see up to a particular distance if there is any threat on the tracks, that will enable him match the break long before getting to the perceived threat,” Sambo stated.

POLICE spokesman, CSP Olumuyiwa Adeobi, responding to inquires on the safety measures put in place, said: “The Inspector-General of Police, IGP Usman Alkali Baba, has ordered immediate deployment of armed personnel drawn from the Police Mobile Force, K-9, Force Intelligence Bureau, Explosive Ordnance Unit and Railway Police Command for the commencement of railway services along Abuja/Kaduna rail lines.

“The Nigeria Police Force has been in regular talks with the NRC and other security agencies in preparation for the commencement of operations. The deployment covers major railway stations along the route and operational coaches to provide adequate security for passengers, their property and the entire service in order to prevent any unforeseen incidence.

“The IGP therefore assures the public, especially intending passengers, of adequate protection of lives and property, as all hands are on deck to fortify the railway services along the route and other rail lines across the country.”

The NRC, yesterday, issued an internal memo announcing train fare increment. This is even as some passengers have lamented over the manner of increment, wondering why NRC will jack up train fares without prior notice to users.

According to the internal memo sighted by The Guardian, from November 30, 2022, travelling from Lagos to Ibadan on the 24-seater coaches will now cost N9,000 instead of N6,500; the 56 and 68-seater coaches will now cost N6,500 instead of N5,000, and the 88-seater coaches will attract N3,600 instead of N2,500.

Fares for Lagos to Abeokuta have been raised for the 24-seater coaches to N6,000; 56 and 68-seater coaches, N4,500 and 88-seater coaches, N3,000.

For Abeokuta to Ibadan, 24-seater coaches, N3,000; 56 and 68-seater coaches, N2,000 and 88-seater coaches, N1,000. Fares for minors on the route have been pegged at N3,000 for Lagos to Ibadan, N2,000 for Lagos to Abeokuta and N600 for Abeokuta to Ibadan.

For the Warri-Itakpe train services (WITS), Ujevwu to Itakpe on the 56-seater coaches will now cost N9,000 while on the 88-seater coaches, it will be N5,000.

From Ujevwu to Uromi on the 56-seater coaches, the price has been pegged at N5,500 while on the 88-seater coaches, it will be N2,500.

However, for Uromi to Itakpe, the price is now N4,000 for the 56-seater coaches and N2,500 for the 88-seater coaches. Fares for minors on the route have been pegged at N2,500 for Ujevwu to Itakpe, N1,500 for Ujevwu to Uromi and N1,500 Uromi to Itakpe.

Similarly, for the AKTS, from Idu to Rigasa, the price has been pegged at N9,000 for 24-seater coaches, N6,500 for 56 and 68-seater coaches and N3,600 for 88-seater coaches while minors will pay N3,000 flat.

The NRC stated that earlier approved add-on costs that are deductible from every ticket sale are to apply and that the changes take immediate effect.

However, some passengers who spoke at the Mobolaji Johnson Train Station, Lagos, yesterday lamented that there was no prior notification about the new train fares before implementation.

When contacted on the sudden increment of train fares, the Lagos District Manager for Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge train, Mr Augustine Arisa, said the manner of approval caused the sudden increment in train fares.

Arisa explained: “We are so sorry for the sudden increment. The manner of approval from the Federal Ministry of Transportation caused the sudden increment.

The resumed AKTS would begin today with two return service. The first train will leave Idu station, Abuja at 9:45a.m. to arrive at Rigasa Station, Kaduna by 11:53a.m. The second train will leave Abuja by 3:30p.m. to arrive 5:33p.m; while the first train will leave Rigasa station, Kaduna by 8:00a.m. to arrive Abuja 9:57a.m., the second train will leave Kaduna by 2:00p.m. to arrive Abuja 4:07p.m.

NRC said the reason it decided to increase train rates is because of increased energy bills, especially diesel, which is needed to operate the trains. Okhiria said the price hike would be implemented with great consideration to the interest of Nigerians and other commuters as the service cannot be halted because of high diesel cost.

He said: “It is better to have it operating than not operating. It is the service we are providing but to provide it, everybody has to make some sacrifices. The major cost should be the cost of diesel, because we require diesel to operate the trains. The cost of diesel has gone up by more than three times and it is costing us to mount human and material security that is required to keep the trains operating.

“We need to service the infrastructure we put in place for the additional security we secured and the additional personnel that will be going up and down to assist; they need some incentives. So I think that Nigerians should bear with us. We are still working on the best way out.”

MEANWHILE, as AKTS route gets busy again, some experts have expressed fears that security agencies may not be able to police the rail lines except there are monitored sensors on the lines. They noted that manual monitoring and policing might not provide adequate security.

According to president of Private Security Practitioners in Nigeria, Dr. Wilson Esangbedo, unless there is patrol through armed drones to respond immediately to attacks on the railway lines, the railways will remain unsafe and a soft target.

The Minister of Transportation at the time of the attack, Rotimi Amaechi, had blamed failure to provide the necessary security system on slow approvals given to procure the surveillance equipment and sensors for the effective monitoring of the rail tracks.

Esangbedo said: “Protecting the railway will be very difficult, because it occupies a large land mass, it will remain a soft target. Unless there are monitored sensors on the railway lines, monitoring manually will not work. The sensors will alert if any bomb is planted on the railway lines.

According to criminologist, Albert Uba, “the resumption of rail services along the AKTS is a sign of responsiveness on the part of the Federal Government. To some extent, it shows a government with listening ears. However, the preparedness of the security agencies to forestall a recurrence is another question entirely.

“There should be synergy among the various security agencies to secure the rail system. The police cannot do it alone; it needs the assistance of other sister agencies. Again, this is the time to be much more conscious with passengers boarding. A system to check the contents of luggage a passenger is carrying should be put in place at each station.

“All passengers must henceforth submit themselves for security checks before being allowed to board like it is done at the airports. That done, we are good to go.”

Security analyst, Christopher Oji, said: “I will suggest that the Federal Government should do the needful. First, the trains need to be bulletproof. They need to be fortified, so that when the unexpected happens, passengers will remain in the train while NRC makes distress calls to security agencies for reinforcement.

“On the other hand, the Nigerian Airforce should for now be escorting the train till the needful has been done. The railway needs serious aerial patrol, after which government should through the security agencies apply cutting-edge technology to ward off criminals.

“For now, if there is no aerial patrol by security agencies on the railways, I won’t advise anyone to patronise the rail. For now, the military and other security agencies are overstretched; they have not been able to tackle the challenges on our roads.”

Also expressing anxiety, Mrs Lola Aderibigbe, told The Guardian said she would rather wait to see the level of security put in place by government before boarding the train.

She said: “I am not eager to use the train until I am sure of my safety. For the past five months, I have been travelling to Kaduna by road without any hitches. So, we need to be assured of our safety first.”

Silver Eze Ifetigbo said: “It would appear that in announcing the measures put in place for the resumption of the AKTS, FG is more concerned about the identity of travellers. Good. But the incident we had was of people outside the train attacking it. What has FG put in place to secure it? Those who attacked it in the first place never boarded it. They attacked it from outside.”

IN another development, the Minister of State for Housing and Works, Umar El-Yakub, has said reconstruction work on the first phase of Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano highway would be completed by the first quarter of 2023.

The Minister gave the assurance at the weekend in Kano during the opening of the 43rd International Trade Fair organised by the state Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture.

The variation in the reconstruction of the 375km highway that stood at N797 billion has attracted several criticisms from interest groups who consider the project expensive.

El-Yakub attributed security challenges and road infractions as a result of unsettled matters of compensation to local communities as major predicament slowing down construction work across the country. He assured of government’s commitment to overcome the challenges.