…After 30 years of colossal waste
By Favour Nnabugwu
THIRTY years after construction work commenced on the 276-kilometre standard gauge rail line linking Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri, and abandoned with most of the equipment vandalized, the Federal Government has renewed plans to complete the rail line project. The project, otherwise called the central railway line, was initially planned to be delivered in five years, with an estimated N40bn needed to fully get the line delivered to Nigerians. The Itakpe – Ajaokuta – Warri standard-gauge line which will transport iron-ore from the Itakpe mine to the Ajaokuta and Delta Steel plants, and coal from Warri to Ajaokuta, was abandoned due to poor funding.
On completion, the line will have capacity for four trains of 32 wagons in its first phase and eventually increase to eight trains of 64 wagons. Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, said while inspecting the project, penultimate week, that the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri standard gauge rail lines would start commercial operation in June 2018, adding that the Federal Government has instructed that the project must be completed by the second quarter of 2018, as contained in the budget.
Directive from the Federal Government
The minister promised to table the matter at the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting with the hope of getting approval to finish the project, noting: “I can’t say until the Federal Government awards the remaining part of the track because from Itakpe-Ajaokuta is bad. They have vandalised everything there and stolen most of the steel and other materials. If the cabinet approves it, the project would be awarded to CCECC to rehabilitate and we are hoping that CCECC would be able to finish it before May, 2018. There are no stations, so CCECC would have to build stations.
“There are two phases of the contracts. The first one was awarded in 1987. We have a directive from the Federal Government that we must complete the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line and it was put in this year’s budget. By the end of December last year, we had disbursed some money to the contractors, Julius Berger and others to commence work, so we have come to see how far.
“We are constructing bridges too in order to reduce contact with human beings who would try to cross the track because this is a speed lane and once it starts, it is going to be 120 to 150 km per hour because it is a standard gauge. If this contract was completed within the time it was awarded, Nigeria would have been the first country in Africa to have a standard gauge line. We need to get this place functioning and the directive of the Federal Government is: we should start and our target is that by June, commercial activities will resume. Julius Berger was handling the project before but they said they cannot continue because they had demoblised and taken all their equipment back to France and they can’t start bringing equipment back again because it would cost us more.
“So, we will take a contractor who is in Nigeria and has all the equipment that can fix the standard gauge. Standard gauge is standard gauge anywhere, there is no magic about it. Julius Berger has opted out but they will complete the remaining part of the project they have started. The company is on site to complete the project and we are trying to protect the project from thieves and those who would want to cause damage by vandalising the facility.”
According to him, Julius Berger will handle the civil works to construct new yard, the 99 bridges, flyovers and refurbish the 178km yard in Agbor. The minister also ordered that the village which has 420 houses be handed back to the ministry due to poor maintenance, while the Ministry would in turn hand over the village to Julius Berger for total rehabilitation and will become economic benefit to the Federal Government through rents to workers. At the Abraka site, the minister directed that the Team Nigeria Ltd., the project consultants, to expand the bridges to accommodate two vehicles as the bridges constructed could sparsely accommodate one vehicle.
Julius Berger Site Engineer, David Imafidon stated that with the level of ongoing work, the project could be completed within the speculated time. He said that 99 bridges were to be constructed in the ongoing project with 12 rail stations, adding that the overpasses to Agbor town were already completed.
Engr. Chiedu Nwazojie, of Team Nigeria Ltd. said that the company would make all the adjustments indicated by the minister to expand the bridges to accommodate more vehicles.
The project commenced in 1987 and was reactivated in 2009 with the Federal Government agreeing to pay N33bn for the design and completion of the remaining kilometres.
The contract was awarded to Team Nigeria and Julius Berger, and was meant to be delivered in March 2013. The contract sum also covered the sidings of the Ajaokuta-Warri rail line up to Delta Steel Aladja, and construction of six stations with the rehabilitation of the completed portion of the line.