Hurdles as Lagos-Ibadan rail test-run, free rides begin
The free train ride between Lagos and Ibadan on the new standard gauge train commenced on Monday, but with low patronage as only few passengers boarded the train in two separate trips. The train, which took off from Ibadan on Monday by 4pm had about three passengers on board while the return trip had three persons on board.
Meanwhile, barring any unforeseen circumstances, the much-expected Lagos-Ibadan railway project will be on stream by April next year, after scaling some hurdles that prevented it from being completed as earlier scheduled. The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, had declared the free ride on Saturday after a test-run of the train from Iju in Lagos to Ibadan, Oyo state where the 157-kilometer project terminates.
At the Abeokuta train station, the minister told the contractor handling the project to redouble efforts and ensure that the project meets up with the standard of work done at the Kajola train station. Besides, the construction of the station has been delayed by limited manpower, which the minister told the contractor to employ more hands to site towards ensuring that quality job is delivered.
The standard gauge express track is designed to have 10 ultra-modern train stations, all of which have park and ride facilities. While four of these are in Lagos corridor (Apapa, Ebute-Metta, Agege, Agbado), three are in Ogun State (Kajola, Papalanto, Abeokuta), and the remaining are in Oyo State (Olodo, Omi-Adio and Ibadan).
The speed train line is to have 10 ultra-modern railway stations with four in Lagos (Apapa, Lagos, Agege and Agbado), three in Ogun (Kajola, Papalanto and Abeokuta), and three in Oyo (Olodo, Omi Adio, and Ibadan).As part of the package is also four extra-large bridges, 11 large bridges, four medium bridges two steel bridges, 10 frame bridges, 207 culverts, 40 railway crossing-no level crossing and 31 pedestrian overpasses.
When completed the railway project would among other benefits ease the pressure on roads, improve haulage efficiency, and strengthen the intermodal transport that the country yearns for. Although the laying of the rail tracks and construction of stations are in earnest, but the progress is yet to extend to some sections, especially the Lagos corridor.The Lagos corridor, spanning 45 kilometres – from Ebute Meta–Iju–Toyin area – remains challenging as the contractor was still seen battling to fix the standard gauge line even as the narrow gauge was yet to be replaced after removal.
The Guardian learnt that the major logistic nightmare for the contractor, Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), is evacuating its equipment and material from Apapa port. Amid the traffic gridlock at the port, it sometimes takes more than 15 days to move their equipment from the port to the project site. This time lapse excludes prolonged delay in the tortuous clearance procedure at the port with so many agencies to satisfy and placate. In these multifaceted delays, thousands of tonnes of steel and equipment imported for the project are locked down for weeks thereby delaying the pace of construction.
Amaechi, had directed that the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) should make an arrangement for passengers to purchase tickets and board easily, while CCECC put in place more befitting train stations. Instructively, all the 10 train stations have already taken off and are in various stages, with CCECC disclosing it may deliver some of the smaller stations by the end of December.
Of the four sections that make the entire project span, the Lagos corridor appears most challenging. That explains why the Federal Government agreed with the contractor to fix it last to mitigate the hardship it might inflict on the people. Being a congested environment, Lagosians, especially those living around the speed train corridor, have had to bear the brunt of the development on the rail corridor. The route from Ebute Meta to Iju had some impediments, such as water and gas pipeline obstruction, level crossings obstruction, bridges, buildings, and high voltage power lines, among others, all of which are being relocated to make way for the new project. While the train stations are yet to be completed, railway signals have not been fixed as about three kilometres are yet to receive track laying at the Ibadan end of the project.
The Guardian observed that most of the bridges along Abeokuta to Ibadan have been constructed while some are just awaiting finishing touches.The Managing Director of the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), Fidet Okhiria, said two luxury coaches would be deployed on the standard gauge daily, adding that because of the limited space, only about 60 to 80 people will be able to benefit from the free ride on first come, first-served basis.
An NRC official, who would not want to be named said the Corporation is optimistic that more passengers would turn up before the week runs out.He said the train had started with a timetable to depart Ibadan 9 a.m. and arrive Lagos 11a.m., while departing Lagos 4 p.m. and arrive Ibadan 6 p.m.
Speaking last weekend, during a train ride to Ibadan from Iju in Lagos, Amaechi said: “The ride was necessary as government promised to commence free train ride, which is what we did this today to know the level of preparedness.“There were some inadequacies that we find out to be corrected tomorrow. So, they will be meeting between the management of NRC, contractors and TEAM professionals to fashion out the best way to start run.
“They will run from tomorrow (Monday) December 2 to 19, they will not run on 20th and commence running on the 21st whereby there be two trips going and two trips returning and will extend from Iju hopefully, but will commence from Agege and will terminate at the last station at Ibadan,” he added. Okhiria said there will be a break on the 20th, for them to carry out an inspection and then if satisfied will turn the trips to twice daily.
When asked if there would be penalties for delay of completion of project, the Minister said there are no penalties as government still owes the contractor some funds. He said: “Hopefully, by January, when all the coaches come, we continue more trials and by April, we start our commercial operations when the stations will be fully ready.“We have no delay in delivery as we are only forcing the contractor to finish before the time that was given.”Speaking on the volume of passengers to convey, he said: “I will clear that as we do not have enough coaches. With what we have, we cannot go full blown to advertise.”