By Sani Adamu, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
To most analysts, President Goodluck Jonathan’s name will be written in gold for his administration’s pragmatic efforts at reviving the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) which has been comatose for nearly 30 years.
They note that the feat is even more evident with the president’s recent inauguration of two Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) train sets and six air-conditioned passengers’ coaches at the NRC terminus in Lagos.
The president, who was represented by Vice-President Namadi Sambo, said that the inauguration of the coaches had signaled the commencement of the 25-year transport sector development plan for the country.
“This is part of the concerted efforts of our administration to steadily improve the railway rolling stock. It is the beginning. Within the next few months, more rolling stocks will be delivered.
“My presence here today is to further show the full resolve of this administration to bring Nigeria at par with modern railway services available globally by constantly upgrading our rolling stock.
“The ongoing railway rehabilitation will continue, because of adequate funding from regular budget and SURE-P intervention.
“The step is aimed at resuscitating and revitalising Nigerian railway which had suffered neglect for decades,” Jonathan said.
He said that the strategic transformation project included the rehabilitation of the existing narrow gauge, the construction of new standard gauge rail line and maintenance.
“ With the support of the Senate Committee on Land Transport, the House of Representatives Committee on Land Transport and the efforts of the NRC management, the goal will be realised,” he said.
Echoing the president’s optimism, the Minister of Transport, Sen. Idris Umar, assured that most of the rail transport projects across the country would be completed by the end of the year.
“I wish to assure the President, the Vice-President and all Nigerians of our determination to ensure the completion of ongoing railway projects across the country, “ he said.
Besides, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, the Chairman, NRC Board of Directors, attributed the economic development of any nation to the effective and functional operation of the rail system.
“The survival and indeed the extent of development of any economy depend very significantly on the extent of development and efficiency of its transportation system.
“Our intention is to improve on the infrastructure of the NRC to ensure it increases passengers and freight movements, “ he said.
In the same vein, Gov. Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, said new trains and coaches would improve the transport system in the state for the benefit of all residents.
Fashola, who was represented by the Deputy Governor, Mrs Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, said the state needed rail infrastructure for its teeming population.
“It is a very welcome development to our nation, Nigeria and to the Centre of Excellence, Lagos State. No doubt, we require this infrastructure.
“We appreciate it and we will continue to give every moral support that the corporation requires as we now have complementary services in the transport system of Lagos State, “ the governor said.
Shedding more light on the progress so far achieved in the railway transformation agenda, Mr Adeseyi Sijuwade, the Managing Director of NRC, also said that significant part of the Eastern Line rehabilitation would be completed by the third quarter of 2014.
“The corporation would continue to pursue its vision, mission, and core values to attain its mandate of carriage of passengers and goods in a manner that is safe, reliable and affordable,” he said.
The Jonathan’s administration also inaugurated the revitalised Lagos-Jebba rail lines, a project which cost the government over N12 billion.
To add value to the initiative, the NRC had also launched its Mass Transit Train Service (MTTS) in Lagos.
Available records show that the corporation has deployed 11 trains, carrying close to 15,000 passengers daily within the Lagos metropolis.
Commuters say the introduction of the intra-city train service in Lagos has reduced the cost of transportation in the area.
For instance, a returned trip from Agege – Ebute Metta under the MTTS now costs less than N150, as against the more than N1,000 it would have cost by taxi, while it now costs about N180 only by train service from Lagos to Abeokuta.
The resuscitation of the train service has also reduced the cost of transportation from Lagos to Kano, which now costs less than N1,800 as against between N4,000 and N5,000 by car or bus.
Industry watchers also believe that the completion of Lagos-Maiduguri standard gauge will make it cheaper and faster to move goods and services from Lagos to the north-eastern part of the country.
The Federal Government also signed a N67 billion contract for the rehabilitation of the 2,119 kilometres three Eastern rail lines.
This comprises the 463 km rail line from Port Harcourt to Makurdi; 1,016 km rail line from Makurdi to Kuru, including spur line to Jos and Kafanchan; and 640 km rail line from Kuru to Maiduguri.
Available records showed that appreciable progress had been made in the completion of the 1,657km Eastern line from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri.
Besides, the administration says it has also procured 25 new locomotives from General Electric and refurbished 366 coaches and wagons, among others.
This is in addition to the 20 units of oil tank wagons, five railroad emergency vehicles, 60 tonnes overhead workshop cranes and three rail inspection vehicles.
Records further showed that the Iddo terminus station, Ebute Metta junction station, Ilorin station, Kaduna junction station, Kano station, Port Harcourt station, Enugu station, Jos station and Gombe station were also being remodeled.
Vice-President Namadi Sambo, recently performed the official track laying of the Abuja-Kaduna fast train line, signifying the complete modernisation of the railway system in the country.
Sambo, who performed the ceremony at the Idu area of Abuja, said that the project was part of President Goodluck Jonathan’s people oriented projects aimed at touching the lives of Nigerians.
According to him, the funding of the project was enhanced through the SURE-P.
He said that the project was also co-funded with the 500 million dollars concessionary loan from China Exim Bank.
“Therefore in our efforts to ensure adequate funding for the Transformation Agenda, government has created the enabling environment for the private sector to play significant roles.
‘’This administration is determined to concession the railway facilities upon completion.
‘’Similarly, opportunities abound for Foreign Direct Investments in this important sector,” he said.
Sambo commended Messrs China Civil Engineering & Construction Company (CCECC) Nigeria Limited, the project handlers for its efforts at ensuring timely completion of the project.
Throwing more light on the project, Umar said that the project was part of the strategic plan to rejuvenate, modernise and revitalise the rail transport system.
According to him, the Kaduna-Abuja rail project is the first segment of the Lagos to Kano standard gauge rail line, adding that when completed and operational it will enable people to live in Kaduna and work in Abuja.
He said that the project had reached 68 per cent completion, including earthworks, hydraulic structures, railway bridges; box bridges; precast T-beams for bridges; and over pass bridges.
Umar said that seven new standard gauge lines were also being proposed under the Public-Private Partnership arrangement.
He listed them as the 322km Lagos-Benin City line, 500km Benin-Abakiliki line, 673km Benin- Obudu Cattle Ranch line, 615km Lagos-Abuja high speed line, 520km Zaria-Birnin- Koni line, 533km Ega nyi-Otukpo and the Ega nyi-Abuja line.
Umar assured that the Abuja-Kaduna railway project would be completed by December 2014.
On challenges facing the project, the minister said that efforts were being made to ensure that the two major constraints- water interference at km 19, and certain estates built along the rail lines at Kubwa were addressed by the relevant authorities in the FCT.
On his part, Mr Shi Hongbing, the Managing Director of CCECC, assured that the project would be completed on schedule.
He also said that the project had employed over 4,000 Nigerians and would on completion, provide jobs for over 5,000 Nigerians who would be trained in various skills relating to the operations and maintenance of facilities.
To further complete the modernisation of the railways, the Federal Government had also earmarked more than N10 billion from its 2014 SURE-P share to fast-track the completion of the Abuja Rail Mass Transit project.
Appraising the progress of work so far, the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Sen. Bala Mohammed, said that the project would cost the government more than 823 million dollars.
This, he said, would cover the cost of final design and construction of Lots 1 and 3, respectively, which is approximately 60.67 kilometres.
To ensure its early completion, the minister said that the Federal Government had obtained a concessional loan of 500 million dollars from the China Exim Bank.
According to him, an estimated 700,000 passengers are projected to ride the Abuja Light Rail (ALR) on daily basis, when the first phase of the project takes off in 2015.
Nonetheless, analysts have advised the government to allow more private sector participation in the railway modernisation programme in order to ensure sustainability.
They note that more pragmatic efforts should be intensified to link the FCT and neighbouring states with standard gauge lines, while the ongoing light rail project should be extended to the satellite towns, particularly Nyanya, Mararaba and Karu to reduce vehicular gridlock.