Debuting West Africa’s Model Train Station

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Designed to integrate the rail transport system with air and land, the Abuja Light Rail Mass Transit that began commercial operation in August is said to be the first of its kind in West African, Olawale Ajimotokan reports

Nigeria finally delivered its first light rail network on July 11, when the Abuja Light Rail Mass Transit System rolled off. The light rail is a modern transportation mode designed by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) at the cost of $824 million, which will connect the satellite communities in the Federal Capital Territory and relieve the residents of their transport burdens.

The network will link the Abuja international airport with the Central Business District, enabling passengers that are flying into Abuja to exit the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport and arrive the city centre by train. The Lot 1 A and Lot 3 standard gauge project covers a total length of 45.3 km. There are 12 stations and 21 operational offices on the network.

The light rail is designed without a pedestrian crossing and has 16 flyovers to enable the train pass under and cars above. There are nine pedestrian bridges, including six dry crossings for cattle and other animals.

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It is the first of its kind in West Africa and equates Abuja with Algiers, Addis Ababa, Cairo, Johannesburg and Pretoria as the only African cities with functional light rail services.

Chief Resident Engineer (CRE) in charge of Abuja light rail project, Tony Agbakoba, buttressed the importance of the project, when he led the Transportation Secretary, FCTA, Kayode Opeifa, and Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on a guided tour of the network.

Agbakoba said, “The new airport terminals that we have will be at the centre and our railway system will be the first in Africa to achieve seamless transfer for passengers from air to train, from air to land, and then connecting the national rail with the metro system.”

Nigeria has an understanding with China to manage the Abuja Light Rail for 41 months before handing the maintenance and train operation to the Nigerian technicians.

Passengers’ Experience

Expectedly, the launch of commercial operation on Abuja Light Rail has elicited excitement among passengers on the National Railway Line and the light rail taking into account the ease of doing business it has enabled.

“I have been a regular visitor from Kaduna to Abuja for the past one year, but this is my first experience on the network. Usually, when I drive from Kaduna to Abuja, I spend about two and half hours but as you can see, I spent about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Kaduna- Abuja. The comfort is there and it is stress free and cheaper. And when it costs me about N15,000 to fill my tank, I am spending just about N2,500 for one way ticket to Abuja, ’’ Abdulaziz Musa said.

Another passenger, Mohammed Ibrahim Jega, said as a frequent traveller, he was thrilled to have had such a great experience travelling. Jega, who runs a technology company called Vogue Pay, a payment platform, said the ease of doing business will improve if more states model the Abuja Light rail system.

“Throughout this year, I have not been to Kaduna by road–I have been using the railway from Idu—Kubwa and coming back and this is a system I feel is more conducive and secure. I think if we have this in every state, it is going to be a lot easier for business and to move around. My customers, my partners, local and international, will find it easier and conducive travelling on train than moving on the road, when they come around,” Jega said.

Gift Ogi, a ticket checker, similarly expressed her satisfaction with the rail. She said the project had brought joy to many youths who have become employed in various cadres since it was launched. “We have about 12 stations but the ones running for now are just three; Idu, Airport and Abuja Metro. We are seeing massive volume of people here. The platforms are always bustling with people.”

Idu Maintenance Depot

The Idu Depot, also generically known as the Rolling Stock Depot, is a major feature in the railway operation. The facility which is shared between the National Railway Line and Abuja Light Rail holds 21 buildings. They include the guard house, the training centre, material storage, living quarters and maintenance workshop, where daily and routine maintenance of railway coaches are carried out.

At close observation, one could also gleam the washing bay, where the train is washed periodically. The bay can conveniently take 50 coaches. There is also the train parking shed where technicians observe the trains after the day’s activities, while they are parked. Also visible are the tracks that go into the parking shed and maintenance workshop. The train is put on the test track of 1.5 km after maintenance and allowed to run up and down before it is released for the operation. In addition there is the spraying booth where they do body work on the train. The Rolling Stock Depot is the biggest maintenance workshop in West Africa and has more than 500 equipment.

Agbakoka also stressed the importance of the water testing room, where water is meticulously tested by engineers before it is passed into the radiator of the train. He said: “Every water that enters the train is purer than the water that we drink. If that is not so, the train will break down in no time. We have diesel tanks and a house for the testing of diesel. Why we don’t have a lot of vehicles plying our roads today is because of the adulteration of our diesels. The engines are very sensitive like hybrid engine. So we want to ensure that the diesel we are bringing is of the purest quality we can get in the market. It is very important that diesel meant for the train must first be tested through the pumping room. The two most important things that enter the train to guide against its breakdown are the diesel and the water.”

Operation Control Centre

The monitoring of railway and transmission of signals are facilitated by the Operations Control Centre also located at Idu. The signal centre is sound proof and built in a way that other communication gadgets will not interfere with the signaling and communication system in the room.

“A lot of the connections were done inside the wall before plastering so that –you know there are gadgets you can use to jam frequencies of other equipment, but in this room you can’t do that. You can’t jam the frequency from outside or inside because if you do that it means the train could also stop working,” Agbakoba said.

The entire railway operation can be sabotaged from the control room in Idu, which is linked to the 11 other stations on the network through several underground cables. “Without this room our trains will not run. It is from here that the guys monitor for security, give signals for control to the trains and can see all the 12 stations, both inside and outside. The screens can record for any length of period that we want. The second set of screens provide the signaling control. You notice that you see light on the tracks, if they don’t give the train the green light, the train will not move, just like the traffic light you have on the road. Ultimately when all the stations of Abuja have rail system, it is here that the monitoring, signaling and communication will be installed,” Opeifa said.

The Control Centre is built in such a way that it can accommodate a 200 km extra length of railway line in future when they are built.

Airport Station

The Airport Station is a striking architectural design that incorporates modernity with comfort. The station is less than a 100 metres walk from the new terminal at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport. It allows the meeting of two modes of transport for a seamless transfer of passengers, who are either arriving or departing for different destinations. The station has an arrival hall, ticketing area, two-bed clinic, food court, wide concourse, meeting room, police station, conference hall and VIP lounges for dignitaries waiting before connecting their flights. The VIP lounge will also serve as meeting point for a lot of businesses, companies and big organisations.

“The light rail project is one of the most kept secrets of the administration. The project was only 53 per cent completed when we came on board but was completed within two and a half years. You can’t underestimate the importance of the structure to the economy. We are also positioning Abuja as a centre that should be able to host big conventions, which is why we are particular about standards,” Mohammed said.