Lagos-Ibadan railway: Steady step in pursuit of comfort for commuters
On several occasions since assuming office, President Muhammadu Buhari has consistently pledged to revolutionise railway services across the country in a bid to turn around the nation’s economic fortunes. The recent commissioning of the Lagos-Ibadan railway in Lagos by the President is a fulfilment of one of such promises.
A first time experience on the Lagos-Ibadan railway train service left travellers pleasantly surprised. Most of the passengers who were on the ride with The Guardian expressed satisfaction with the service, just as they stated their readiness to subscribe to the N3000 train service to and from Lagos because of the comfort it brings.
The level of comfort, leg-room in the coaches and the ease with which the train glided on the newly laid tracks was a big relief from the excruciating experience of driving through the ever-busy Lagos-Ibadan express road.
Specifically, commuters highlighted the notoriety of the Lagos-Ibadan highway for such uncertainties as incessant road crashes, kidnappings, robbery attacks, and traffic gridlock, among others. In 2018 alone, an estimated 500 persons were said to have lost their lives while plying the ever-busy road.
Behind The Scenes
Against this background, the Ministry of Transportation braved the odds to ensure the construction and timely completion of the rail line from Lagos through Abeokuta to Ibadan. With close monitoring and support, the construction was delivered within three years.
In 2017, when the project was kick-started, it was divided into phases. First was from Ebute Metta to Iju Ishaga Station, then from Agbado to Abeokuta, and from Abeokuta to Ibadan. With this delineation, it was easy for the Minister, alongside other stakeholders, to embark on monthly inspection of the project, traversing the length and breadth of the rail through Lagos and Ibadan through bush paths.
Part of the challenges encountered in the process of monitoring and inspection was that on one occasion while riding through bushes, with the minister driving himself, as usual, the Hilux and Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) passed only for the minister’s Range Rover to catch fire.
Although he escaped unhurt, the incident did not deter the Minister as he jokingly told reporters: “After my Jeep caught fire I wrote to the Permanent Secretary for a replacement, but I was told, Mr. Minister that is your sacrifice to the project.”
FOR funding, the Federal Government was at a vantage point given the fact that the $1.6billion approved for the construction of 157km railway line was domiciled at the China Exim Bank. The money was to be released only to the contractors after recommendation by the Ministry of Transport based on their level of work. With that strategy in place, the minister was able to ensure that the contractors did not default or renege on the agreement or timelines.
Stakeholders recalled a period when the contractors were taking so long to link a bridge due to the soil texture and topography of a place somewhere around Ibadan. However, after the minister informed them of his return to inspect the project, the contractors had constructed the bridge before his arrival. That was part of the behind the scene approaches that led to the timely delivery of the project.
Observers contended also that if the fund for the project was domiciled with the Federal Government, the ‘Nigeria factor’ would have set in, leading to a possible abandonment due to the usual claim of the paucity of funds. The development partner approach helped to achieve the milestone.
WITHOUT a doubt, the Lagos-Ibadan Rail project came with a lot of challenges. For instance, the Minister disclosed that 1000 houses were demolished to construct the rail line through Abeokuta.
Amaechi stated: “When I told the former governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun that the contractors would have to demolish 1000 houses to construct the rail line through the state, he initially told me to take the tracks to another state. But, after considering the economic benefit of constructing the rail line through his state, the governor agreed. So the indigenes, whose houses were affected, were duly compensated and construction work began.”
Comparatively, the contractors disclosed that they did not experience many challenges on the Abeokuta-Ibadan axis as the Lagos axis. They said linking the Iju-Ishaga Station to Ebute Metta was a herculean task due to the busy nature of the state and the challenge of relocating the crude oil and Water pipelines along the rail route.
It would be recalled that the Minister directed that passengers go to Iju Ishaga to pick a train ride to Ibadan for free. That was at the height of much pressure due to the congestion on the roads caused by the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan express road.
From inception, according to the Minister of Transportation, the intention was to ensure that the project was completed and commissioned by 2020. He stressed that the contractors were instructed to hire more workers and acquire more equipment. “Unfortunately, COVID-19 pandemic set in, and this happened when the Chinese go for their annual festivity. So, due to the restriction of movement and suspension of all international flights, most of the contractors were held in their home country for up to eight months. Nonetheless, few that were on the ground continued the job with very few workers.
“Following the removal of travel restrictions, the contractors were faced with another challenge – the inability of Ships carrying imported wares to be used at the station building to berth for close to three months at the Apapa seaport,” he narrated.
The goods berthed and were cleared following the intervention of the minister, just as the next issue that came up was when the project was extended to terminate at Apapa Port to reduce the traffic gridlock on the axis. The contractors confessed that that was another arduous task for the contractors, given the heavy equipment along the axis, as well as the demolition and relocation. At the end, the contractor, CCECC, despite all odds, was able to rehabilitate the narrow gauge tracks and on June 9, 2021, the Minister, alongside other stakeholders, had a smooth train ride into the seaport, and up to the Wharf side.
The station buildings, especially the major ones at Ebute Metta, Abeokuta, and Ibadan were equipped with modern facilities such as escalators, lifts, and VIP sections, among others. Stakeholders project that the railway would create about 11,000 jobs in addition to ancillary trades and services.
Earlier in April, the Transportation Minister revealed that the Federal Government (FG) has borrowed a total of about US $2.5billion to foot the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan Rail Project.
The funds were borrowed from the Export-Import Bank of China, one of the three funding banking institutions in the East Asian country. They are chartered to implement state policies in the industry, foreign trade, economy, and foreign aid to other developing countries. The banks are programmed to provide policy and financial support so as to promote the export of Chinese products and services.
THE Lagos-Ibadan line is a double-track standard gauge rail, the first of its kind in the West African sub-region. It runs from Nigeria’s economic hub and most populous city, Lagos, to Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, with a total of 10 stations interspersed.
With trains operating at a maximum speed of 150 km/h, the infrastructure cut the travel time between the two cities to two hours, according to the CCECC. Corroborating the assertion, Managing Director, Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Fidelis Okhiria said with the commissioning of the railway, the corporation would begin to run four schedules from Lagos to Ibadan, assuring that NRC would stick to the 1:30 minutes travel time.
Okhiria said the Corporation aims to expand to 16 trips per day, noting that the economy class ticket currently sells for N2, 500, while the business class and first-class tickets go for N5000 and N6000, respectively.
Although the initial project cost was put at $1.6billion, the Minister explained that when it became necessary to link the rail to the seaport for the economic benefit associated with it, the Federal Government decided to borrow US$ 2.5billion for the Rail Project. His words: “We had to take about 45km rail from Ebute-Metta into Apapa seaport. There is an additional one connecting Tincan Island Seaport to Apapa.”
During the flag-off of commercial operations of the Lagos-Ibadan Rail, President Buhari said the ceremony was yet another milestone in his administration’s drive to revitalise the railway system, establish it as the choice mode of transportation for both passengers and freight, as well as position it as a transportation backbone that can transform industrial and economic activity in the country.
The President added that the vital line established an end-to-end logistic supply chain in railway transport within its short corridor Lagos-Ibadan, saying that goods to the hinterland would now be transported by rail directly from the Apapa port Quayside to the inland container depot located in Ibadan from where it can be distributed to other parts of the country.
While some critics may have queried the government for using a foreign loan to build the railway, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka has applauded the giant strides, in one of his interviews with newsmen. Soyinka had disclosed that the train corridor in Abeokuta, Ogun state used to be his hunting site, but he is glad to see what the site has become.
He said he doesn’t care about the government responsible for the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail line as long as it is there.
“For now, we are keeping our feet on the ground looking for opportunities for traders and commuters, among others. I don’t give a damn who put it there, it doesn’t matter whatsoever as long as it is. This is not a question of killing; this is a matter of being creative. This is not a do or die occasion, but do and do the occasion,” Soyinka said.