Directs Amaechi to link rail to Apapa, Tin Can, Warri, Onne, Calabar Ports
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru and Dirisu Yakubu
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday inaugurated the 326 KM Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line for commercial operation as well as the ancillary facilities yard, at the recently named Goodluck Jonathan Railway Complex in Agbor (Owa-Oyibu), Delta State.
The rail line was conceptualized over 30 years ago, precisely in 1987 by the General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida military administration, and has been in limbo since then.
At the virtual inauguration of the rail line linking Itakpe to Warri, President Buhari directed the Federal Ministry of Transportation to link all the nation’s ports of origin and destination – Apapa, Tin Can, Warri, Onne, Calabar Ports- to the rail network in order to significantly improve overall transportation and economic capacities.
The President declared that his administration recognised the importance of the railway mode of transportation as a vital backbone to support industrialization and economic development.
”Accordingly, I have approved the prioritisation of viable railway routes for either new rail lines or the reconstruction and rehabilitation of some, to achieve effective and efficient train services supporting the country’s trade and commerce.
”The Railway Infrastructure that I have the honour to commission today is the rail line from Itakpe via the steel town complex of Ajaokuta to Warri, and is an important link for the country’s economy as the central rail line.
”This Government has also approved to link this line further from Itakpe to Abuja, thereby, connecting the Northern Zone of the country and also extending southwards to link the Warri Ports,” he said.
President Buhari expressed confidence that the project, which serves as a vital link of the South-South geopolitical zone of the country to the Northern zone, would be completed during the tenure of this administration.
According to him, ”It will link people across the cultural divides and expand the frontier of trade and commerce, which will lead to better standards of living for our citizens.”
He recalled that to further give recognition to Nigerian sons and daughters who have distinguished themselves at nation-building and development, 11 railway stations and railway village were named after some deserving citizens.
He listed them as follows: Adamu Attah Station, Itakpe; Abubakar Olusola Saraki Station, Ajaokuta; Augustus Aikhomu Station, Itogbo; George Innih Station, Agenebode; Anthony Enahoro Station, Uromi; Tom Ikimi Station, Ekehen and Samuel Ogbemudia Station, Igbanke.
Others are Goodluck Jonathan Railway Complex, Agbor, Owa-Oyibu; David Ejoor Station, Abraka; Michael Ibru Station, Opara; Alfred Rewane Station, Ujevwu; and Michael Akhigbe Railway Village, Agbor.
The President enjoined all Nigerians in the transportation industry, especially the railway sub-sector, to continue to support the government in its stride to achieve other railway infrastructure projects.
He also enlisted the support of all at realising this milestone of a functional and full-fledged central railway, after more than 30 years during which the project has suffered several setbacks and false starts.
He said, “I implore those who work on this line to uphold maintenance and safety culture necessary for long-lasting service in this difficult terrain.
”By the same token, I urge other sectors who will be primary beneficiaries of this transportation backbone, including, the iron and steel sector, stakeholders in agricultural and mining sectors on this corridor, as well as the host communities to protect and sustain this infrastructure and maximize the benefits that could be derived from it and which is readily available at their doorsteps.
“This project will increase the volume of their trade and kickstart and resuscitate the iron and steel complexes.
“All these, I hope will improve our industrial potentials and capacities as well as boost employment.”
President Buhari said projections indicate that the commencement of operation of the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Rail line will account for close to one million passengers annually and also unleash approximately 3.5 million tonnes capacity of freight annually that will service all off-takers on the corridor and beyond.
Congratulating the Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi and his team on successfully completing the project, the President recognized the host communities on this corridor for their patience during the long wait of over 30 years for the realization of the project.
He also commended the host communities for their cooperation during the completion of works by the Federal Government.
He assured Nigerians that his administration would continue, within available resources, to judiciously connect commercial and industrial hubs to boost trade, generate wealth, and create employment.
In his remarks, Delta State Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa commended President Buhari’s bi-partisan approach to governance, saying “it is a thing of pride and joy that this rail line was completed under your watch.”
“Deltans are excited that this day has come,’’ he said, adding that the Ika nation is glad of the recognition accorded former President Goodluck Jonathan, in naming the railway complex in Agbor after him.
Okowa urged the private sector to take advantage of the historic corridor by establishing investments that will create jobs for locals, curb youth restiveness, and stem the tide of criminality.
“It is imperative that the Federal Government in collaboration with the States provide adequate security cover for this rail line corridor,” he said.
In his remarks, Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki congratulated the President on the feat of completing the project, saying it is quite fortuitous that few days to the country’s 60th independence celebration, the President has achieved the completion of this critical infrastructure.
“For us in Edo State, we are excited that we have a few stops that have been completed and we are going to be working with you to utilise this infrastructure,” he said.
The Edo Governor appealed to the minister of transportation to extend the rail line to the industrial park in Benin City to facilitate the movement of goods to the northern part of the country.
In his remarks, Minister Amaechi said the project was fully funded by the Nigerian government, adding that 8 of the 10 stations are in the Niger-Delta/ South-South region of the country.
He said, “There is no loan on this project, it was funded from the budget and I had the directive of the President to go and revive it and complete it as soon as possible.”
The Minister explained that the project started under the military era in 1987 but ‘‘underwent protracted hiccups, prolonged abandonment, and massive vandalisation,” before it was resuscitated by the Buhari administration.
Recall that the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri railway, otherwise known as the Central Railway Line, was originally designed for the transportation of Iron Ore to Ajaokuta (Kogi) and Aladja Steel Rolling mills (Delta State).
It was also designed to transport processed steel to the port in Warri, Delta State. The project was initially planned to be delivered in five years. However, it was abandoned for over 30 years due to paucity of funds.
The construction of the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri railway line was abandoned after about 254 kilometres had been constructed.
The railway line would have been the first standard gauge railway line in Africa if it had not been abandoned. In 2009, the construction of the Itakpe-Warri railway line was reactivated. The Goodluck Jonathan-led Federal Government approved N33bn for the redesign and completion of the remaining 22 kilometres.
The contract for the construction of the railway line was awarded to Team Nigeria and Julius Berger PLC. The project was meant to be delivered in March 2013.
The new construction contract covered other areas. They include the construction of the sidings of the Ajaokuta-Warri rail line up to Delta Steel Aladja. It also involved the construction of six stations. The rehabilitation of the completed and vandalized portion of the line was also included.
The Itakpe-Warri railway line was redesigned to provide passenger service. It was originally conceived as a cargo rail and after the change of Federal Government in 2015, The project was abandoned. It was abandoned after 70 per cent completion due to lack of funds.
In 2017, the new administration of Mohammadu Buhari announced that they funding the revival of the Itakpe-Warri rail line at a cost estimate of $200 million (N72 billion). The plan was to get the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line ready for commercial operations by 2019.
The project was re-awarded to three construction firms. They are Julius Berger, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), and ZTE.
12 new stations were proposed between Itakpe and Warri in a new arrangement. Two stations would be between Itakpe and Ajaokuta. The remaining 10 would stretch between Ajaokuta and Warri. They include Itakpe; Eganiy; Adobe; Itogbo; Agenebode; Uromi; Egehen; Igbanke; Agbor; Abraka; Okpara and Ujewu stations.
The railway line will connect three states: Kogi, Edo, and Delta State and ultimately the FCT, Abuja.
In July 2018, two coaches (trains) on the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Railway were relocated. They were relocated to the Abuja-Kaduna railway line. This was due to the sudden upsurge of passengers on the new Abuja-Kaduna train service as a result of the activities of kidnappers along that route.
The previous government acquired the trains for the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Rail line. The relocation of the trains was on the orders of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.
Trains on the line were going to run at 120 to 150km per hour because it is a standard gauge railway line.
- On completion, the line will have the capacity for four trains of 32 wagons in its first phase and eventually increase to eight trains of 64 wagons.
In October 2019, the government signed a N1.4trillion ($3.9 billion) contract with China Railway Construction Corporation Limited. The contract was to extend the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Railway line to the national capital of Abuja.