Kasim Sumaina in Warri
The federal government yesterday directed the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), to begin full scale commercial activities on the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line, thus ending the three-month free train ride it offered passengers on the axis.
The Minister of Transportation, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, gave the order while inspecting the level of work done so far from Itakpe, Kogi State, through, Agenebode, in Edo State, down to the East-west corridor at Owa-Iyibu, Agbor and Warri, Delta State.
The minister, while also responding to questions, shortly after the inspection, informed that, the sum of $3 billion would be needed to link the rail project from Itakpe to the nation’s capital, Abuja.
According to him, “that is a different project entirely. It would cost about $3 billion from Itakpe to Abuja with a seaport at Warri.”
Amaechi directed the NRC to fix a price for the Itakpe-Warri railway and stop the free train rides.
He said: “The commercial activities should resume fully today; I have already directed the MD to start collecting money.
“The plan to link Itakpe- to Lokoja has to go to the cabinet; once it is approved, it is a different contract all together but before then, the Itakpe-Warri will continue to function.
Speaking further, he said: “What we are doing now is to take people from the South -south to the North but, unfortunately, Itakpe is in the middle of nowhere and there is need to get them to Lokoja, so that people can pick train from Lokoja to Warri.
“The MD is also making arrangements where we create parking space for cars and buses in Itakpe, so that when they drop passengers they can pick passengers from Itakpe to Abuja.”
He said: “All trains in the world are affordable because government subsidises the cost for passengers. The problem is not the cost but the problem is whether we can break even.”
Asked why there is low patronage, he said: “If you connect it to Abuja, the number of passengers would increase. The track was initially built for iron ore but we asked them to include passenger services because we intend to use it as a central line.
“The idea is to connect Nigeria without too many tracks. So, if we construct Lagos to Calabar, Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, Lagos to Kano, they need a central line that runs through them so u connect the entire country. So, this is the central line which begins from Abuja to Warri.”
Continuing, Amaechi said: “So, if you look at it, Lagos-Calabar will run through it, the central line will run past Lagos-Kano as it go through central line then we will connect Maiduguri through Lagos-Kano
“So with that you have av connected the whole country moving them from one city to the other for now until we have enough money to do whatever we want to do.”
The minister, however, added that, by the time the entire 12 stations on the axis were completed, there would be track, offices and the companies mining iron-ore would be able to move their goods, while passengers would be able to use the train.