By Victor Ahiuma-Young
The senior staffÂ union in the communications, Transport and CorporationsÂ in the country, underÂ the aegis of the Senior Staff Association of Communications, Transport and Corporations (SSACTAC), has petitioned President Musa Yarâ€™ Adua, suggesting ways to modernise the nationâ€™s rail system and make it commercially viable.
SSACTAC in a petition which detailed the history, boom and challenges confronting the railway networks in the country, suggested among others, the establishment of a special railway commission.
In the petition, signed by the President-General and General Secretary of SSACTAC, Comrades Adetunji Adesunkanmi and Chile Ekeke, respectively, said â€œThe Commission, special railway commission, to be headed by an appointee of the President under the Presidency, should have members drawn from the Federal Ministries of Transport, Finance, Culture and Tourism and Works and Housing as well as the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Office of the Accountant General of Nigeria and organised labour, the Nigerian Union of Railwaymen, (NUR) and the Senior Staff Association of Communications, Transport and Corporation(SSACTAC).
â€œIts main job should beÂ listing and itemising all that is needed to make Nigeria a modern railway nation, double and standard gauge tracks, signalling and other related equipment installations; workshops, stations with shopping malls; extension of existing rail lines to towns; connection ofÂ the Federal Capital Territory, State Capitals, big – motor parks; air and seaports, the building of new lines, East-West Line; Central/Middle Belt Line; Upper Arewa Line and the Niger Delta/South-South Line;Â develop an appropriate plan and schedule for completion of the projects istating that the previous 25 Year Development Plan for the Railway needed to be reviewed.
The union further sugguested â€œMonitoring the payment schedule and infrastructural development; relating with and monitoring the activities of all participants â€œof the Public/Private Concessionaring arrangementÂ in Railway development as approved by the Bureau of Public Enterprises; development of housing units, hotels, shopping malls on Railway properties;Â feedback to the authorities and liaising with other stakeholders as necessary. It said that the Nigerian Railway Corporation must initiate theÂ clearingÂ of theÂ entire RailwayÂ environment of all forms of debris including unserviceable locomotives and wagons etc.
According to the union â€œItems of history should either be confined to a Railway Transport Museum to be set up within its premises at Ebute Metta or transferred to the National Museum in Onikan, LagosÂ Material and personnelÂ audits aimed at meeting each crucial processÂ in the developmentÂ Plan;
RecruitmentÂ with emphasis on Manpower development and training at all levels.Â The reopening of the technical and staff training schools to meet with junior and middle manpower needs
and liaison with traditional partners in Swiss, German, British, American and Canadian Railways for senior manpower development,).
Strengthen relationships with Governments like Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna and Rivers who are supporting services on the NRC system to run trains, then open intra district, inter district and the cross country services on schedule as the system allows.)
That services for goods and passengers are provided at commercial rates).
â€œRailways must extend its services by allowing its viable land most of which contain unsuitable properties to give way to modern estates and hotels. It must project its tourism potential to a holiday conscious world and introduce comfortable shuttle bus services. Railway must seek other means of powering locomotives beyond the outdated coal and still in use diesel.
â€œThe Federal Government has at most times not demonstrated the political will to establish a modern Railway system. Our Association therefore welcomes this recent development. The Federal Government needs to do the following: – Repeal the Railway Act of 1955 to allow for the much spoken of public-private participation. This will no doubt reopen discussions on proposals by the Oâ€™dua Group and another international concern to operate train services between Ibadan and Lagos and Abuja – Lagos respectively. No doubt the approval of these proposals will surelyÂ attract other parties. Make available necessary funds for projects duly assessed by experts and well meaning citizens.â€
The union in the petition added: â€œThe Government must specify the policy direction for the Nigerian Railway Corporation in future such as: the running of its operations at commercial rates stipulating through ordinance the type of goods that must go by Railway to stem unhealthy competition and survive the Railway for the good of the larger majority. the necessary security arrangement to guarantee safety in Railway operations nationwide.
â€œThe Government Agency, BPE mustÂ discuss with stakeholders including organisedÂ labour, the directive for its planned activities in the Nigerian Railway Corporation: the future of Railway workers in a concessioned work environment;
what model will the concessionaries operate (Build Operate Own or Build Operate Transfer); will the NRC operate the landlordÂ modelÂ or be only a transport company? will the vast landed assets of the NRCÂ be sold to a privileged few or put into useful purposes for theÂ greater majority like the Railway Hospital.
â€œThese andÂ likely issues must be discussed with the BPE and other relevant authoritiesÂ before any concessioning agreement SSACTAC is eagerly hoping that other stakeholders especially the Government and its agencies will invite it for discussions. We are ready at all times to be part of the purposeful engagement. May the Railways be an asset to our company from now on.â€