Breathing life to comatose rail transportation
Not long ago, the Abuja-Kaduna leg of the train system became fully operational, while work is ongoing on Lagos-Ibadan leg, and the Itakpe, Kogi State to Warri, Delta State is to come on stream by December 2018.
Soon, all things being equal, Nigerians would begin to heave a sigh of relief from the pains associated with travelling on bad roads, with the options provided by rail transportation.
Clearly, unfolding events in the rail sector show that efforts initiated by the Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua, and especially, Goodluck Jonathan administrations are beginning to bear fruits, as the Buhari government has completed some of abandoned rail projects and embarked on the construction of new tracks where necessary.
The Abuja-Kaduna railway project, one of the first to be commissioned by the present administration in 2016, has run successful commercial operations for the past two years without any hiccups.
In summarising the journey on the Abuja-Kaduna operations, the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi said, “We have been prompt; we have kept clean and kept the fares very low. We have shown that there is nothing wrong with the black man; there is nothing like international standard, and that we can meet any standard if we focus on it. It’s not being managed by CCECC or any white man; it is managed by the Nigerian Railway Cooperation.”
Amaechi, while bemoaning paucity of funds for the execution of many projects in the sector, deplored the cutting of about N68b allocated to the ministry from the 2018 budget, a development he said will impact negatively on government desire to connect all major towns and cities by rail.
Asked if the ministry was overwhelmed by the multiplicity of projects being handled across the country, he responded in the negative, saying the ministry has been able to multi-task to ensure that it delivers on the President’s campaign promises.
In order to ensure that the new rail infrastructure are well maintained, as well as, guard against dumping of a railway technology on the country, the minister informed that the construction firm, CCECC has agreed to train Nigerian engineers in China over a five-year period on the applicable railway technology, just as it has agreed to build a transport university in Kastina State.
Additionally, the government also awarded a $500m contract to CCECC for the purchase of new office locomotives and coaches.
The minister explained that under the contract, CCECC agreed to build a factory for the manufacturing of wagons in the country. “We told them that they cannot just dump something on us and go away, so we are insisting that they start the manufacturing of locomotives and wagons in Nigeria.”
Currently the Federal Government is constructing the Lagos-Ibadan railway to which it has paid N72b counterpart fund. The aim of the project is to build a standard gauge rail line that would run from Lagos to Ibadan.
As at today the rail line has been completed from Iju-Ibadan, leaving the Lagos end yet to be completed due to challenges that contractors are having with the relocation of oil, and water pipelines.
While the contractors have assured that work would be completed on the project by December 2018, the minister has equally assured that once the contractors reach Ebutte Meta, commercial operations would commence in earnest.
When completed, there are plans to deploy 16 locomotives, 40 coaches and 120 wagons to the Lagos-Ibadan railway, the minster said the coaches were currently being fabricated and would be deployed as soon as possible.
Exactly one year ago, the Federal Government awarded a $121m contract to the China Civil Engineering Company (CCECC) for the rehabilitation of the 52km Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line, which was constructed in 1986 as an industrial line for transporting iron ore and steel along that axis.
However, government has now announced plans to commence commercial operation on the route even as the contract is also for the construction of about 12 stations along the 302km rail line.
Presently, the rail lines from Itakpe-Warri have been completely rehabilitated, what is remaining is the construction of stations by CCECC and Julius Berger. Julius Berger had promised to complete work and leave site by September, while the government is also trying to see if it can construct the railway line from Lokoja to Itakpe so as to ease passenger traffic along that corridor.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has concluded plans to unbundle the Nigerian Railway Corporation into three companies. One of the companies, Amaechi said, would be into maintenance of rail tracks, another into operations, while the third would be in charge of marketing.
On whether the unbundling would come into effect after the amendment of the Nigerian Railway Act, the minister said the move would go ahead, and if there is need to adjust the act, then that would be done.
One of those appreciative of the steps taken by the Federal Government to revamp rail transportation in the country, is the Ohi of Ihima Land, and Chairman of Okehi Traditional Council, Alhaji Ahmed Abdulraheem.
He commended the government for the rehabilitation of the Itakpe-Warri railway line saying it would impact immensely on the community, which is the largest producer of steel in the country.
He praised the Federal Government for waking up from its slumber, noting that at the speed, which rail development in the country is going, there should be no stagnation anymore.
He said: “Whenever the Federal Government conceives projects, we hope it continues with deadlines set such that any change of government will not affect the progress of the projects.”
Also, a youth from Agenebode, in Etsako East Local Council, Ovie Abdulkareem, expressed delight at the siting of a rail station in his community.
While thanking the Federal Government for the gesture, he said such steps would further boost business opportunities in the community, as well as, open it up to the rest of the world.
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