By Dirisu Yakubu
The federal government Friday flagged off commercial cargo services on the Warri-Itakpe standard gauge rail line, 30 years after it was abandoned by previous administrations.
The 320 km route was rehabilitated by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, as part of its commitment to link major towns and cities in the country with a rail transportation system.
Performing the flag-off ceremony in Warri, Delta state, Friday, Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi said incumbent administration will continue to ensure that all critical infrastructure capable of bettering the lives of Nigerians, but abandoned by previous governments, are “completed and commissioned by this administration.”
He continued: “It is universally acknowledged that a developing country with a large population such as Nigeria must develop a robust transport system like modern and functional rail system, which is undeniably instrumental to creating much needed socio-economic transformation and industrial development and in enhancing more efficient, land-based, affordable mode for mass transit and freight services.
“We are here today, to flag-off commercial freight services on the standard gauge route that was abandoned for over thirty years but rehabilitated by this administration and put into operation.
“This laudable achievement will definitely boost the Gross Domestic Product, GDP, and equally enhance the socio-economic development of the communities living along the route. The project is for the benefit of these communities and Nigeria generally, irrespective of political affiliation,” he said.
According to Amaechi, construction and modernization of railway projects cut across all geo-political zones regardless of the political leanings of the states, saying, “The modernization of railway in Nigeria is not confined or restricted to any geographical location in the country. It is the intention of this present administration to ensure that every part of the country is linked with standard gauge railway lines. While he federal government will continue to rehabilitate and maintain the existing narrow gauge, other state and zones will be availed the opportunity of railway modernization project within their geographical zones,” he added.
The Minister further called on host communities where the facilities are located to help monitor them from possible vandalization.
This freight service is a partnership between the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC to move materials for the Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano gas pipe project.
Also speaking, Ibrahim Alhassan Musa, chairman of the Board of NRC went down historical lane to recall the difficulty in bringing back the Itakpe-Warri rail route back on stream.
“The event of today is a remarkable realization of a long awaited dream that took many long years to come true. The long road to the construction of this railway line started in 1987, some 34 years ago. It was originally designed for the transportation of Iron Ore from Itakpe to Ajaokuta (Kogi State) and Aladja steel Rolling mills (Delta State). It was also designed to transport processed steel to the port in Warri, Delta State and was initially planned to be completed within five years.
“However, it became stalled for over 30 years due to paucity of funds. This central line of this railway line was revived and completed by the present administration under the supervision of the Honourable Minister of Transportation and commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari on 29th September 2020. It would have been the first standard gauge railway line in Africa if it had not been abandoned. There are plans to extend this line to Abuja,” he added.
On his part, Chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transportation, Istifanus Gyang pledged the readiness of the federal parliament to continue to cooperate and partner with the federal government to bring about a functional nationwide rail network to ease the burden of transportation on the nation’s highways.