By Jimoh Babatunde
It is just 12 noon but almost every available space at the Iddo railway terminus in Lagos has already been taken up by commuters waiting for train for their return home. Departure time is 4.15 pm, some four hours away.
But while the waiting lasts some are taking a nap; some are munching biscuits, groundnuts or just sipping “pure water”. Some others are simply busy discussing politics; upcoming or past English Premiership or Spanish La Liga matches.
Once in a while, those dozing off will jerk back to life, take a brisk look at their wrist watches to be sure they have not been done in by nature.
Now, the clock is ticking fast towards three 0’clock. Everyone is awake, steadying their steps for the big rush to buy tickets.
At three 0’clock, the bell rings, and everywhere comes alive, the rush for tickets has begun. One goes for N120 per seat in the economy class and N500 for first class.
Getting a ticket is just part of the game. The biggest is securing a seat. Getting on board becomes a matter of survival of the fittest, with the younger passengers winning much of the battle, and women traders, the usual losers, pushed aside with their wares.
In 15 minutes or so the coaches are filled to the tilt. And that’s not counting those sitting dangerously on top of the coaches or hanging precariously on the doors or just anything at all.
The train blares, then jerks into slow motion, and the journey begins. Destination: Ijoko, Ogun State, then with stop overs at Ebute Metta, Alagomeji and Yaba where other passengers are waiting to come on board.
At Ikeja another scramble for whatever space left ensues. Losers in the struggle can only bite their fingers sand curse their ill-luck. Determined to make the journey to Ijoko, some climbed up to sit on the coaches.
One of the passengers, Kayode John, who lives at Agbado says: “Many people want to get to Lagos on time in the morning, so they try to go with the first or second train. So most of them wake up as early as 4.30am to wait for the train that arrives from Ijoko at exactly 5.30am, en route Iddo Terminus. But the problem is that they are almost always filled up before they get to Agbado. As a result, those who have been waiting have to struggle to get seats on board.”
It is the same story in the evening as those who want to get home on time try to squeeze into available spaces in the train.
Train saves commuters from the stress of the notorious Lagos road traffic. And it is also cheap. Aina Olufemi, who has been travelling by rail to Iddo from Ijoko in Ogun State since 2000, says the fare is cheap.
“I started by paying N30, then N50, N70 and now N120 for one way trip. Travelling from my place in Ijoko to Lagos will cost me nothing less that N350 and with stress.”
His sentiment is shared by Kayode John and Akinkayode, both civil servants, working in Lagos but both residents of Ijoko and Agbado areas of Ogun State, respectively.
Kayode John said: “I join the train everyday to and fro Ijoko. I was living in Ebute Metta before I built my house in Ijoko. The train is cheap for us to commute from Ijoko to Lagos. I spend about N350 for a trip to Lagos by road, but for train I pay N120.”
However, apart from the need to wake up early everyday to catch the first or second train, the commuters complained about lack of an appreciable level of convenience on the trains.
Aina also complained about obstruction on some of the rail lines and frequent delays in the arrival of trains at the Ijoko Agbado Itoko axis, and the attendant long wait at the stations.