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The return of Lagos Rail Project

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Train leaving Ebute-Meta (EBJ) terminal in Lagos. PHOTO: SUNDAY AKINLOLU

The return of Metroline to Lagos State, 40 years after it was aborted following military incursion into government, is one of the best things to be happening to the state. Lagos commercial nerve-centre is too significant to foot drag, and deserves nothing but a functional and efficient transport system that a good leadership should drive and deliver on schedule. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s renewed vigour to get the metroline going is heartwarming. Having the project completed almost 40 years after its first mention will change the face of Lagos chaotic transport services, even if it does not answer all the begging questions.

Terminating the Lagos rail project in 1985 clearly brought out the lack of visionary leadership and dangerous politicisation of developmental infrastructure to the detriment of the people’s well-being. Petty party politicking between the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) at the centre and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in Lagos, got in the way of the Lagos Metroline Project, when the late Lateef Jakande conceptualised and sought external borrowing of N689 million to construct the rail in 1983. The then governor was a man of vision, who saw the imperative of a mass and sustainable transport scheme for the state, whose population was bourgeoning at a geometric rate. Then, by fiat, Muhammadu Buhari’s military administration cancelled the project in 1985, just a year to the completion of the first phase of the project. From less than four million residents then, the state has ballooned to over 20 million in less than 40 years. In return is a choked and chaotic setting, where hellish traffic bottlenecks and lawlessness daily adorn its poorly regulated modes of transportation.

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When Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, therefore, launched the construction of the Red line section, a 37km rail linking Agbado to Marina, it revived hope that the state may still get the transportation system it deserves. The re-launch dated back to Bola Tinubu-era in 2003, when under the Strategic Transport Master Plan (STMP), the state established the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) to deliver the Lagos Rail Mass Transit (LRMT) project. The LRMT network comprises six light-rail transit (LRT) lines — red, blue, yellow, purple, green, orange, and one land monorail (Victoria Island), to network the entire municipal and contiguous state via seven corridors. The Blue line section, covering Okokomaiko to Marina, has dragged on almost forever.

Although a complex project in its own right, the Metroline could be a major player in bringing sanity to human and vehicular traffic in an ever-expanding conurbation like Lagos. Sanwo-Olu was right that the rail project will reduce travel time of commuting through the state and support the leading 21st century economy. But that prospect does not correspond with the actions taken to address the gross transportation deficit. The governor campaigned vigorously pre-2019 gubernatorial election, promising to fix the transportation problems and deliver on critical projects; it was expected that the rail project would get its real mention long before now, half-way into the four-year tenure. His government will need to move much faster, if the state is to deliver the project in full.

Lagos State deserves more than excuses. Here is a mega city, the fifth largest economy in Africa and one of the most critical to economic survival of Nigeria in the wake of the oil receipt slump. Yet, the state lately ranks as one of the most difficult to live in, given its gross infrastructure deficit and safety. The global poor rating is not farfetched. For instance, while Lagos is already a home to at least 10 per cent of Nigeria’s population, its landmass is less than one per cent. So, while an average of 12 vehicles ply a kilometre of road nationwide, it is 240 per kilometre in Lagos. Intractable eyesore at Apapa ports and its environs say it all on its density, as well as signposts the endemic chaos that the Lagos State government regularly contends with.

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A functional and affordable rail transport system can change the narrative significantly. Light-rail investments have proven to be a good cushion to the problem of urbanisation in Africa especially. Examples abound in the Cairo Metro that was conceived in 1982 and completed in 1987. The project has lately been expanded to the fourth phase. Addis Ababa in 2015 opened its 34km light-rail that was built within five years, that is half of what Lagos 27km Blue Line linking Okokomaiko to Marina has taken. In nine months, the Addis Ababa rail line has transported over 29 million people that could have hit the road in the absence of rail services. Therefore, efficient and affordable mass transportation service that light-rail promises, is no longer a luxury but a necessity to alleviate wanton pressure on man-hour and overstretched road infrastructure.

Lagos State has promised that the Red line would move its first passengers in the fourth quarter of 2022, as the state works towards bringing the first phase of the Blue line to passenger operation also in 2022. The onus is on Governor Sanwo-Olu to deliver the rail infrastructure on schedule, to link up with federal efforts to connect the whole country by tracks, and begin to give Lagos residents and investors a huge sigh of relief. Obviously, the metro line is not the only answer to the Lagos transport and environmental questions, but it offers a good intervention and how best to remember an administration adjudged well by posterity.

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