Blue Rail Line: Will Lagos break the jinx?
• Give us the benefit of the Doubt —LAMATA
Considering the many deadlines misses that it suffered, many would be forgiven for thinking that the Lagos Blue Rail Line project was jinxed. Originally billed for completion in 2011, the project, which was conceived to ease the pains of residents and visitors, sadly dragged on for 12 years. It ended up being “completed” this year.
Surprisingly, rather than focus and deliver the project as a whole, the state government was busy celebrating every single milestone that it recorded in the course of executing the project. Some of these milestones included the completion of civil works, the completion of the iconic Marina Terminal, and the arrival of the coaches, etc.
In the course of all these, the government has fixed the commencement of commercial operations at least thrice, but none of these came to fruition.
Last week, another date for the start of commercial operations was fixed, that is Monday, September 4, 2023.
The Blue Rail Line project was conceived as an alternative form of intra-city commuting. Specifically to move the state away from the mono-transportation mode, which it has been noted for.
With a population of over 20 million residents, the state has become synonymous with chaotic traffic situations.
In responding to the challenge, the state government considered an intermodal transportation system, through the development of a light rail network resuscitated by former governor, now President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in the early 2000s.
A formal announcement of its construction was made in December 2003, after an earlier attempt by the late Lateef Jakande failed to materialise.
The initial $135m proposal for the project was part of the Greater Lagos Urban Transportation Project, which was to be implemented by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA).
In 2008, LAMATA made progress with the rail project, focusing initially on the Blue Line, a 27km long rail project, expected to connect Okokomaiko to Marina.
In April 2008, the state government approved N70b for the construction of the Okokomaiko-Iddo-Marina Line, with an estimated completion date of 2011 for the first phase (from Mile 2 to Marina). However, the project suffered many delays.
The initial 2011 completion date was moved to 2013. Despite the additional two years, the project was still not delivered that year.
The then Special Adviser to the former Governor of Lagos State (Babatunde Fashola) on Media, Mr. Hakeem Bello, in explaining the failed deadlines alleged that the delay could be due to the non-approval of the World Bank loan by the Federal Government.
But when informed then that the contractor had been on site since the governor made the pronouncement, he suggested that the reporter should get in touch with LAMATA for deeper insights on the failure of the June 2013 completion date for that phase.
The then External Relations Manager of the LAMATA, Mrs. Angela Olanrewaju, explained that the Blue Line Rail project was on course, noting that the entire project was divided into phases.
“The first phase is from National Theatre to Mile Two. There are four stations – National Theatre, Iganmu, Alaba, and Mile Two. Under this phase, the four stations have been substantially completed. The elevated section has been completed and the contractor is currently laying the rail tracks,” she said then.
Olanrewaju added that LAMATA was constantly monitoring the progress of the project and is satisfied with the extent of work done so far.
“On the completion date, the construction of the first phase of the project was projected to be completed at the end of June this year (June 2013). However, we experienced some minor hitches due to delays experienced at the ports concerning importation of materials and equipment, the weather has also impeded the pace of work. As with huge projects like this, a lot of unforeseen logistic challenges always arise, but we are working closely with the contractor to ensure the timely completion of the project. We are committed to completing this project at the earliest possible time.”
When the state government sensed that it could not deliver the project in 2013, it shifted the goal post by an additional two years, projecting the completion date for 2015, which was also not met.
The immediate past governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, also followed in the footsteps of his predecessor.
On July 16, 2015, about two months after he came into office, Ambode assured that he would deliver the project to Lagos residents in 12 months. That deadline fell. In July 2016, five months after he promised to deliver the project in 12 months, he shifted the goalpost, saying it would be completed in December 2016. But in November 2016, the governor made another volte-face saying it would now be completed before the end of 2019.
With Ambode failing to get a second term, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who took over from him continued playing the old, familiar tune.
On December 17, 2019, Sanwo-Olu, who led members of the State Executive Council to inspect the five-kilometre-long continuous beam bridge, constructed from Iganmu to Marina, promised to complete the project in 2020, but he never did.
He said: “The completion of this project is a top priority for our administration, as it is critical to the achievement of our prioritised pillar of traffic management and transportation in our six-point development agenda, known as project THEMES.
“The aim of this rail project is basically to reduce travel time through an effective and efficient intermodal transport system. It is also key to the building of a 21st-century economy, which is central to the vision of a Greater Lagos aspiration. We are committed to delivering this project next year and ensuring that its operation starts in 2021.”
But mid-2020, exactly on May 27, the immediate past Commissioner for Transportation, Dr. Frederic Oladeinde, at the year 2020 Ministerial Press Briefing in commemoration of Sanwo-Olu’s first year in office, said that the state government had reset the completion date to 2022.
The commissioner’s position was re-echoed by Sanwo-Olu on September 25, 2021, when he said that the 2022 deadline set for the completion of the Lagos Rail Mass Transit (LRMT) projects being undertaken by the Lagos State government remained sacrosanct.
By January 3, 2022, Sanwo-Olu assured that in line with his administration’s commitment to Traffic Management and Transportation, the fourth quarter of 2022 completion time set for the red and blue line rail projects in the state remained sacrosanct.
On April 24, 2022, Sanwo-Olu reassured residents that the state government was on track with its efforts to complete works on both the blue and red lines rail projects, promising that Lagosians would ride a train on the rail by the first quarter of 2023.
On December 21, 2022, the state government celebrated the completion of the project. At exactly 1:31 pm on the day, Sanwo-Olu stepped into the coach of the newly completed Lagos Blue Line, taking the first trip.
This was followed up with a formal commissioning on January 22, 2023, by former President Muhammadu Buhari.
The inaugural ride on the train after commissioning was performed by Buhari in the company of Sanwo-Olu, his Deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, and other invited dignitaries.
On the same day (January 22, 2023), Sanwo-Olu said the Blue Line would be operational after the completion of a 750 Volt-ampere dedicated power supply source.
As a result, the hope of residents commuting on the train in the first quarter was dashed, especially as the state government said that commercial operation would start in April 2023.
April ended with no commercial operations on the train commencing, even though LAMATA conducted a test ride for guests.
But by late June 2023, LAMATA said the first phase of the Blue Line rail system would open for passenger operations in August.
The Managing Director of LAMATA, Mrs. Abimbola Akinajo, disclosed this in a keynote address at the first-ever LAMATA Business/Investors forum in Lagos.
“I am happy to inform you that we are rounding off all testing processes for the commencement of full passenger operations in August this year. Details of the operations will be announced soon,” Akinajo said.
Just as August was winding down, many concluded that the state government may, yet again, not fulfill its promise, especially as finishing works and installation of elevators were still being done on the rail, and in some of the stations. Suddenly, however, some posters were pasted around train stations that commercial operation would start on August 30, 2023.
When The Guardian visited the Mile 2 train station on August 30, 2023, there were no signs of commencement of commercial operation. The two entrances into the train stations were closed though not padlocked. A few persons suspected to be staff of LAMATA or ticket sellers sat in clusters, with no train in sight. The entrance to the facility was dusty and dirty.
When The Guardian inquired about taking a trip by train, she said that commercial operation had not started, adding that a new date would be announced, when she was queried about the commencement date announced through the posters pasted around the station.
Later the same day (August 30, 2023), LAMATA announced that commercial operation would start on September 4.
Already, the countdown has begun for residents, who hope that the state government will finally break the jinx, and get the intra-city rail transport system operational.
When the Communication Consultant of LAMATA, Kola Ojelabi, was contacted on the feasibility of tomorrow’s commercial operation commencement, he maintained that the managing director of LAMATA has spoken, and the agency should be given the benefit of the doubt this time around.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.