Rehabilitation of rail tracks across the country is already having a positive impact on the transportation sector. Olaolu Olusina examines the on-going efforts aimed at reviving railway infrastructure in the country, noting that nothing would gladden the hearts of Nigerians than seamless rail services
President General of the Nigerian Union of Railway workers, Comrade Ben Ralph Okoro, was at his best recently in Enugu, the capital of Enugu State. The second quadrennial delegate conference of the umbrella body for railway workers in the country had provided him with another opportunity to address the problems confronting the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
Apparently speaking the mind of the average Nigerian on the importance of a good railway system for efficient transportation, Okoro maintained that the development of the railway sector remains “the only unfailing tool and panacea through which economic growth, great nationhood, and economic prosperity can be attained.”
According to Okoro, “Rail transportation, of all existing modes of transportation, guarantees the mass mobility of people and safe carriage of freight,” adding, “it therefore becomes imperative to see railway development as significantly responsible for the growth of any nation because railway transportation naturally and effortlessly brings to reality a myriad of socio-economic derivatives.”
Despite the various challenges facing the sector in Nigeria, which led to making this transportation sub-sector becoming moribund for several years, he saluted what he described as “the courage, political quest, and heavy financial commitment of the federal government to the resuscitation and repositioning of the nation’s rail transport industry through the on-going rehabilitation of all its fixed and movable assets since 2009.”
He maintained that “it is, of course, no secret that the federal government must have saturated its great mind with the conviction that railway development is a sure and unfailing panacea to sustainable economic growth and national prosperity.”
There is no doubt that a good railway system is vital to transportation. Aside the immense benefits of railway infrastructure to the national economy, many Nigerians still remember vividly the good old days of the NRC when mass transit trains used to run seamlessly from Lagos to Kano; Lagos to Maiduguri; Lagos to Port Harcourt and back. The transportation of industrial and agricultural products from every part of the country was also enhanced by train services.
Petroleum products and automobiles were also not left out as the railway provided a cheaper and less strenuous ways of moving products from one part of the country to the other. But many years of neglect of the sector as well as political interests of the then ruling class led to the total annihilation of the sector thus bringing the railway system to a near comatose state.
Reviving the Sector
Nigerians, no doubt, still look forward to the full revival of the sector and this explains the enthusiasm they have expressed in the on-going rehabilitation effort. Though various attempts aimed at breathing new life into the railway system has encountered some challenges, the on-going rehabilitation of not only the rail tracks but the structures and other assets of NRC is now in full gear and is bearing fruit.
Managing Director/CEO, NRC, Engineer Adeseyi Sijuwade, seemed to be reading the minds of Nigerians and has assured that the good old days of the railways will soon be restored. “Although NRC is aware of the urgent demand for the resumption of our services which is constrained by the on-going track rehabilitation in other parts of the country, we commend the federal government for its commitment to the exercise nearing completion. Soon, Nigerians will experience a vibrant rail system that will surpass the glorious past,” he said.
Slow but Steady Progress
Assistant Director, Public Relations, Mr. David NdanusaNdakotsu, informed THISDAY that the NRC has indeed made significant progress in the on-going rehabilitation work. Explaining the achievements chalked so far in an encounter with at the corporation’s headquarters in EbuteMetta, Lagos, Ndakotsu said the train services that are currently operating across the country are just one of the many successes recorded by the corporation under the leadership of Sijuwade.
He listed the train services to include the Lagos Urban Mass Transit Train Service which runs 8 times daily from Ijoko in Ogun State to the Iddo Railway Terminus; Enugu Urban Mass Transit Train Service; Minna-Kaduna Mass Transit Service; Kaduna-Riga-Chikan Mass Transit, initiated and supported by Vice President Namadi Sambo when he was governor of Kaduna State; Kaduna-Kano Mass Transit Train Service; Kano-Challawa Mass Transit; and the Kafanchan- Kaduna Train Service. Others, according to Ndakotsu, include the Bukuru-Jos Mass Transit; Maiduguri-Duwari Mass Transit; Ilorin Urban Mass Transit; and the Lagos-Ilorin Express Passenger Train Service.
Ndakotsu said 15 additional CHW and three CBX wagons have been refurbished at the Carriage and Wagon Workshop in Enugu. “These completely refurbished wagons have been offered for movement of ballast and other track rehabilitation materials. Availability of these refurbished wagons for rehabilitation work on the Eastern line has contributed very significantly to the level of work so far done here. Presently, rehabilitation work is about 80 percent complete,” he told this reporter. He added, “In addition to this, one of the existing locomotive engines before the delivery of 25 units of new locomotive engines has been completed and yielded to hauling services in Enugu.”
On the Makurdi Sand Traffic, Ndakotsu said for the unhindered movement of sand from Makurdi to Oturkpo/Otobo, which had already commenced, one of the corporation’s old locomotive engines has been rehabilitated and is in use in Kafanchan. “The rehabilitated locomotive engine has bolstered the utility level of the four CBX wagons and two guard vans just recently rehabilitated. For improved revenue generation and optimal utility of the locomotive and other railway vehicles assigned for the sand traffic, assorted goods are moved on return journey of the train after delivery of sand,” he added.
Private Public Partnerships
He disclosed that the corporation is exploring opportunities in collaboration with the private sector operators just as it is doing with state governments. He disclosed that the collaboration has resulted in the commencement of three freight services for the transportation of cement from Agege-Ewekoro, Ewekoro-Osogbo, and Ewekoro-Ilorin under an arrangement with Lafarge WAPCO Cement Company.
“Lafarge is helping us with the refurbishment of wagons dedicated to transporting their products while we are also into container movement from Lagos to the various inland container depots in Ibadan, Jos, Aba, Maiduguri and Bauchi, in collaboration with importers. We are also working with Oando in the lifting of petroleum products from Lagos to the northern parts of the country while we collaborate with Peugeot Automobile of Nigeria in the area of vehicle movement from the port in Lagos to Kaduna,” he disclosed.
Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, had officially flagged-off the haulage service partnership in Ewekoro when he formally signaled the completion of the railway rehabilitation project in the south-western axis. The minister who was represented by the newly-appointed chairman NRC board of directors, Mr. LadanShuni, termed the partnership “a huge developmental achievement in the sector.”
He said with the joint venture, both companies had given emphasis to how significant the rail transport sector is to the growth and development of the country, adding that it will boost the policy of the federal government on public private partnerships .
Lafarge’s project director, Mr. Guy Chaperon, added, “Lafarge WAPCO is committed to making cement available Nigerians at all times and this is why this partnership with the Nigerian Railway Corporation is very important to us. We are optimistic that that use of rail transport will help to ensure that our products -Elephant Cement and Supaset - get to the final users in a safe, reliable and fast way.”
Excited at the development at the epoch-making event, Sijuwade hailed Lafarge WAPCO for the confidence reposed in the corporation, describing the partnership as a notable milestone. “The partnership has yielded fruitful results by haulage of 600 metric tons of cement weekly to Ijoko and 150 metric tons to Agege recently.
Today’s flagging-off signals the haulage of 750 metric tons to Ibadan and 600 metric tons to Oshogbo, capitals of Oyo and Osun States respectively,” Sijuwade disclosed, adding, “in all, 2700 metric tons is expected to be hauled weekly before the end of this month with the prospect of doubling capacity to over 5,000 metric tons on completion of the Jebba-Kano track.”
According to him, “It is my hope that this partnership with Lafarge will encourage others to patronise the services of the corporation, as we are determine to regain our pre-eminent position to take stress off the road network and bring down the price of cement.”
Seamless Train Services
But Nigerians appear to be asking for more and will not give up until they have seen the return of seamless train services from Lagos to Kano, Lagos to Port Harcourt, Lagos to Maiduguri, and Lagos to Sokoto, among others, with spurs to other cities along the routes, as had obtained in the past. Ndakotsu assured that “within the first quarter of 2012, the Lagos-Kano express passenger train will commence,” noting that the challenge being faced at the Akere Railway Station end in Niger State had been surmounted and has reached 65 percent completion.
“Frequency of passenger trains in Lagos which, as of now is eight in number, will be increased to 16. This will be in conformity with the corporation’s policy of increasing train frequencies to correspond with bourgeoning passenger volumes and traffic demand,” he explained. He added that the initial quarter of 2012 will witness the signing of other memoranda of understanding between the corporation and some corporate bodies, which, according to him, will further bolster the passenger and freight traffic offerings of the NRC.
Plans for the Future
The Nigerian Railway Corporation added that it is already looking into the future and expressed satisfaction with the level of support it has received so far from the federal government, saying nothing more could best express the commitment of President Goodluck Jonathan to the revival of the rail transport system in Nigeria.
Ndakotsu disclosed that the N25 billion Lagos-Kano track rehabilitation being undertaken by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation Company and Costain, West Africa, is funded entirely by the federal government. The Lagos-Jebba stretch of the project, THISDAY gathered, was awarded to CCECC at the cost of N12.3 billion while the Jebba-Kano axis is being handled by Costain.
Ndakotsu further assured that rehabilitation of the eastern rail track would commence mid-January as contract for the work has been signed. He disclosed that the rehabilitation of the eastern track, which will run from Port Harcourt through Aba, Umuahia, Oturkpo with a spur in Kafanchan before branching off to Wudil-Gombe, Bauchi and terminating in Maiduguri, will cost a whopping N77.33 billion.
He added, “With the successful completion of plans for a mutual business relationship with Osun State Government as typified by the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding between the corporation and Osun State, the NRC is still forging relentlessly ahead in its strategic approach to offering quality rail transport services to teeming commuters and freight owners .”