Poor services cripple intercity rail line

on   /   in Business, Finance 12:17 am   /   Comments

•Travel time worsens by  13hrs

•Touting, disorderliness  persist

BY JONAH NWOKPOKU

One year after its re-introduction, poor services have crippled the Lagos-Kano intercity rail line, with travel time worsening  by 13 hours.

Investigations by Vanguard reveal that the intercity service, which was flagged off by the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar in Lagos  December, 2012, is  still being bedeviled by the same problems of ticket touting, disorderliness and frequent breakdowns.

The reintroduction of the passenger service had attracted a surge in rail users within the  southwestern-northern axis, which overwhelmed the resources and capacity of the railway management.  Hence, overcrowding, technical failures and delays became the order of the day, with passengers demanding for more rolling stocks and improved quality of service.

Travel time worsens
When the service was reintroduced in December, 2012, the journey from Lagos to Kano took  between 29 to 30 hours. By mid-March, it worsened to  34 hours, and further to  39 hours by the end of August. And by December, 2013, the journey time had  increased to 43 hours.  For example, the  Lagos to Kano train that departed Lagos by 3: 00 pm on Friday, 20th of December, 2013, got to Kano by 10: 00 am on Sunday, December, 22nd.

Volume of passenger  drops
As a result of these problems,  passengers have started avoiding the  intercity rail line service. Most passengers rarely patronise the service twice. This is reflected in the passenger volume per trip which dropped from 2000 in January to 1,000 by  mid October. This trend was confirmed by the passenger volume on the Lagos to Kano service on Friday December 20th. The train took off with 700 passengers which filled only three of the eight coaches. Although the remaining coaches were later filled along the way, this was not the case from the beginning.

Ticket touting and disorderliness persist
It would be recalled that in April,  Vanguard reported  the prevalence of touting and disorderliness in the ticket process.  When Vanguard visited  the departure lounge of the Iddo terminus on Friday, 20th December, 2013, the situation was still the same. The atmosphere was  rowdy and disorderly. Most of the passengers were first timers, hence  they were ignorant of the procedure for obtaining ticket. This was compounded by absence of instructions or signs on the procedure and departure time.

Most of the passengers started  waiting  from 10:00 am to obtain tickets but none was officially issued  till about  11:30 am. When Vanguard sought to know the reason for the delay, one of the officials at the ticketing booth said that ticket sales don’t  commence until there is  confirmation that the train was ready to depart. The train was to depart by 12:00 pm. However, by 11:30 am, the station manager ordered that the tickets be sold and within 30 minutes all the passengers got their tickets and boarded  the train.

 

But by 12:00 pm, the train did  not move, and neither did it move by 1:00 pm or 2:00 pm. The train finally moved from Lagos by 3:00 pm. While the delay lasted, there was no official explanation or apologies. Some of the passengers had even lost hope of traveling that day. Vanguard’s attempt to find out the cause of the delay also proved abortive.

Passengers express disappointment
The passengers were frustrated and complained bitterly, many of them had had to have their lunch while those who are  Muslims disembarked to observe  the Friday Jumat service. One of the passengers, Kunle Wale was headed to Jebba with his brother Timothy. They were infuriated with the delay.

Timothy said, “We have not even moved and I am already regretting coming. When I came here to make inquiries on Wednesday, they told me to come very early because the train leaves by 12 o’clock. But look at the delay. There is nothing from government that is ever organised. I don’t even know what would bring me here again.” They got to Jebba by 9:00 am on Saturday.

After the train departed, Vanguard sought further to ascertain the cause of the delay. The Station Manager, who did not want his name mentioned, told Vanguard that it was as a result of unforeseen logistical challenges. According to him, “When we have logistical  problems, we always experience this kind of delay. This is especially so if the logistical  problem has to do with the braking power system. So it is better to delay than to hurry off and put people’s lives in danger.”

Earlier when Vanguard spoke to another passenger,  Sam Enejor, a graduate of Economics who was headed to Kano, he said that he sensed that the train had technical challenges but it was wrong for the authorities to have waited till the day of departure before making frantic efforts to put the train in good condition.  “This is business and if the authorities take their customers seriously, they should not waste all of their time”, he said.

Like many of the passengers, it was his first time on the intercity rail service. When Vanguard placed a call to him on Sunday, he bared his mind on the entire intercity rail business.”This is bad business. The railway authority is subjecting people to untold hardship. Imagine spending 43 hours on the road! Within that period, I ate five times and if you add that money to the train fare, it would pay the bus fare that would take me to Kano in far less time. So there is no advantage. People are just suffering.

“Let government help the railway authorities make this business attractive for private investors to come in. Because it is only when that happens that we can begin to see the true economic potentials of the railway. At the moment, I don’t even advise any businessman to go and put his money there. This is not the way it ought to be. It is bad.”

NRC abandons passenger for haulage service
To curtail overcrowding in the intercity operations, the railway authorities refurbished more rolling stocks and injected them into the intercity train service but at the moment, that does not appear to yield meaningful result as passengers for whom the  Offa/Ilorin train were dedicated to are few  and the authority cannot bear the enormous cost of maintaining the line. So they have been reverted to the Kano route.

Shortly after the rehabilitation of the intercity train service, the Federal government invested additional N3 billion to rehabilitate the freight train service, including the acquisition of the rail telescopic crane to evacuate accidented trains from the tracks. The authorities have also gone ahead to launch the container freight service and container haulage has begun to move from Apapa port to the northern part of the country.

Petroleum tanker wagons have also been acquired and thousands of litres of petroleum products are currently being moved from Lagos to Kano every week.
But analyst argue that though the haulage services are important, it would have served a better purpose if the authorities had dedicated those resources to making the passenger rail service more effective.

Vanguard, however,  gathered that while the  NRC  dreams of efficient passenger service, it also needs to resuscitate those haulage services in order to boost its operational revenue because the fund generated from the passenger service is barely able to maintain its operations.

Mr. David Ndakotsu, Assistant Director, Public Relations NRC told Vanguard  that the passenger train service is almost like a charity. “The cost of buying diesel alone is so high that the railway cannot hope for much revenue accruing from the passenger train. That is why we are trying to diversify to the haulage services, in order to generate more income for the railway’s operations”, he said.

Asked how much the haulage services generate per week as against the passengers’, he said he could not disclose that. But an NRC official who preferred anonymity told Vanguard that the wheat traffic alone generates about N25 million per week compared to the paltry N4 million generated by the passenger train service.

NRC assures of improved passenger service
When contacted on the declining state of the passenger service, Ndanusa said that the authorities are aware and that efforts are being made to address all challenges. He said that the authorities are re-strategising for effective service delivery and that a 2014 Strategic Directions for the Nigerian Railway Corporation has been adopted with emphasis on Journey time capability, train service availability, amicable, punctuality and safety.

This, he said, was the outcome of a four-day senior management retreat with the theme ‘NRC back on track:  Sustaining the Drive”  recently organized for management and senior officers of the Corporation in Osogbo.
According to him, “The objectives of the strategic direction are to achieve 30 per cent reduction in the journey time for the intercity train services, 10 per cent monthly reduction in the frequency and extent of train delays, 25 per cent monthly reduction on customer complaints, not more than 10 minutes delay in scheduled departure time and 25 per cent monthly reduction in the number of accidents.”

On his part, the Managing Director, NRC Engr. Adeseyi Sijuwade, said, “The Corporation’s 2014 direction will be guided by the vision, mission and mandate of the Corporation to provide a more efficient, reliable, safe rail transport service to compliment the nations’ ongoing economic transformation.”

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