With the completion date for the Lagos-Ibadan rail project slashed from three years to a year and half, Sunday Okobi posits that the contractor stands to gain if quality is not compromised
The construction work on the 156.65 kilometres Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail project is progressing significantly. The project, which starts from Lagos State, through Ogun State to Oyo State is being executed by the China Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC) on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
The progress of excavation around the rail track path and subgrade fill/cutting is currently put at over 70 percent completed. Also the culverts and bridges being done have reached significant levels as the contractor, CCECC now works day and night to meet the new deadline of December 2018 set by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.
The project was initially scheduled for completion in May, 2020, but was reversed to December 2018 by the minister. During one of his inspection tours to ascertain the progress of work being done, Amaechi told the contractor of CCECC in clear terms to deliver on schedule. That order, has no doubt forced the contractor to deploy additional resources, equipment and manpower on the project and as the firm works day and at night to meet the deadline. ,
Already over 120km right of way have been established along the corridor and compensations paid out to locals for farm lands, properties and economic trees.
The contractor should also start laying the tracks by this month, if what the minister had said in March 2018 is anything to go by.
With the possible commencement of the laying of tracks by this April, the minister is excited the project will be delivered in December 2018 according to his directive. But there are a few other challenges the contactor is facing of which the minster is also making concerted efforts to resolve.
The minister said the speed of the project by the CCECC had greatly increased compared to last year when he gave the revised completion date.
â€œI am very impressed, the speed has increased. The doubt I had before whether we could achieve this project by the end of the year appears to be vanishing,â€ Amaechi noted.
He also told the contactor to work day and night to complete the work, an order the contractor has also complied.
On the challenges, beyond the two bridges that will be demolished in Lagos and rebuilt, several kilometers of gas, water pipes and telecoms cables, and an army barracks will have to be relocated among other issues. Also, huge right of way would have been established in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, and that would cost billions in compensation.
But the Minister, in February, during an inspection tour, announced new measures he intended to use to tackle the issues to enable the contractor have a better experience. He however told the contractor to avoid the 1,400 structures marked for demolition in Abeokuta.
According to Amaechi, â€œWhat we have suggested is that they should review the location of the train station in Abeokuta to avoid an area where we have too many buildings. If you observe, when we visited the area where we have so many buildings on the proposed station site of the Lagos-Ibadan rail project in Abeokuta, towards the left of that area is a huge expanse of land that has fewer or no structures on it. We have told the contractor to look at the possible option of going towards the left, instead of going through the MKO Abiola Complex (in Abeokuta) and running through buildings behind it. It doesnâ€™t involve any new engineering structure. All they need do is move towards the left of the MKO Abiola Complex so that the path of the standard gauge project will avoid an area where we have too many houses.
â€œIf we agree to go towards the left of the MKO Abiola Complex, then we wonâ€™t be paying N2.8billion as compensation to property owners.â€
On the Lagos axis, Amaechi explained: â€œIn Lagos, we have set up a committee to be chaired by the Chairman of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, with (representatives of) the CCECC, the Nigerian Army and the Lagos State Government as members. This is because the Lagos State challenges are huge. We have oil pipelines and water pipelines, some belonging to the NNPC, some belonging to private investors and some belonging to the Lagos State Government. The committee members are to look at possible solutions to the problems, having at the back of their minds the deadline target of December 2018â€ he said.
With the project completion date now reduced by half, from May 2020 to December 2018, it throws up additional challenge to the contractor as it will need to deploy twice the amount of human and material resources to meet the deadline and if quality will not be compromised. No doubt the CCECC engaged more staff in the day and night, procure/deploy more specialized construction equipment like excavators, skid-steer loaders, backhoe loaders, bulldozers, dump trucks, cranes, drilling rigs among others. This should naturally cost them more and impact there profit margin at the end of their contract. But it is not very clear if the contract cost will be reviewed upward since the competition date has changed so the company can recoup its loses. But sources within the transportation ministry did say they may eventually happen.
Another issue some industry watchers are saying is that the deployment of additional construction equipment will have a negative impact on CCEC if at the end of the contract time, they donâ€™t have a new project to deploy the new equipment they have bought to complete the Laos-Ibadan rail line contract. They wonder what will become of the additional specialized equipment the CCECC has deployed to do the job in other not to compromise quality.
However, a top ministry of transportation official, who spoke to our correspondent on the matter under condition of anonymity said: â€œWhilst there is no talk on the contract review for now, it may eventually crop up because that is best practice except the contractor wants to let go.â€
He explained that typically, â€œIf you gave a contract to do and you said you will complete the job in 6 months at N1 million. We agreed. You went to work and only for me to return to say I want the job in three months. There is no doubt you must certainly charge me additional money for an express job as you would have to deploy more hands and more equipment to complete the job to specification.â€
Even your local tailors will charge additional fee for an express job he said adding that this may also apply to the Lagos-Ibadan rail project.
â€œAgain, after CCECC has deployed so much equipment, resources and staff to the Lagos-Ibadan project and deliver on schedule, what happens to the equipment and other resources after the project,? If there are no more projects to deploy the equipment on, what do they do with the huge equipment? Take them back to China and at whose cost?â€ he asked.
He also noted that the contractor may just â€œwant to have a good working relationship with the government for the future but the government if they donâ€™t press for reviews.â€
The contractor has declined to comment on the issue of additional costs. But one thing is certain, as a result of the revised completion date of the project, the contractor has incurred additional costs, and this will impact its bottom line negatively. Will they be raising an invoice for a contract review?
However, the contractor had last year said it is focused on delivering the project by December 2018 as a mark of support to the federal government to enable it fulfill its promise to Nigerians. No doubt, the rail project, when functional, will catalyse economic growth and social good in the country.