- FG reduces number of passengers per coach from 88 to 40, hikes ticket price
By Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja and Kasim Sumaina in Warri
President Muhammadu Buhari Saturday named the newly constructed railway complex in Agbor after former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, who made the announcement on behalf of Buhari said the ministry had begun to test-run coaches purchased to ply Itakpe – Warri rail line that has just been completed.
Making the disclosure Saturday, Special Assistant to the President on New Media, Tolu Ogunlesi, on his Twitter handle, @toluogunlesi, quoted the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, as announcing the president’s decision.
“President @MBuhari has approved the naming of the Railway complex in Agbor – the operational hub of #ItakpeWarriRail Line – after former President @GEJonathan. It will be known as Goodluck Jonathan Railway Station & Complex,” Ogunlesi tweeted.
In the same vein, another special assistant to the president, Lauretta Onochie, on her Twitter handle, @laurestar, quoted the minister as announcing the kick-off of the test-run of coaches on the standard gauge.
She tweeted: “A few days ago, we announced that the test-run for the new coaches on the completed Itakpe-Warri route, would begin soon.
“Today, we started test-run of the newly delivered coaches on the completed Itakpe-Warri standard gauge line – Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi.”
The Itakpe-Warri rail line which reportedly connects Agbor was initiated by the administration of Jonathan and executed by China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCEC).
However, it was learnt that after the advent of the administration of Buhari, the contract was renewed afresh on the rail line. The Benin – Onitsha rail line is said to connect the Itakpe -Warri standard gauge.
Buhari’s decision to name the complex after Jonathan appeared to be a further appreciation of the former president’s peaceful nature which manifested in his unilateral decision to hand over power to him in 2015 after he was declared the winner of the March 28, 2015 presidential election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The president had at different fora acknowledged and commended the former president for his uncommon gesture.
Speaking during the test run of the facilities, the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, “It was named after Goodluck Jonathan and the President approved it. Agbor station, the yard and the facilities was named after president Jonathan.”
On the project commissioning, Amaechi said: “It is the duty of the ministry to convince the Presidency that we are ready for commissioning, I won’t commission, it is the president that will commission but we are thinking about virtual commissioning.”
Speaking on reopening train Services, he observed: “We need to maintain social distancing and ensure that we won’t be able to transmit COVID-19 amongst ourselves. Now that is worst when you have to deal with 4000 passengers a day between Kaduna and Abuja.
“We are going to comply with the Covid-19 committee and the committee says three metres distance that’s why we are reducing the number of passenger from 88 per coach to 40, not even 44 because you must give that three metres distance so that you don’t spread COVID-19.
“Transportation from Abuja to Kaduna will double because each coach takes 88 passengers but we will reduce it to 40 and the price will increase but we will need to talk to the president before we move on.”
The minister further disclosed that government will increase the presence of police for the enforcement of law and order in all the coaches and “the implications is that when you enter the coach with your face mask and remove it, we will stop, you will come down or put back the mask and if you don’t, we will not move. Either other passengers force you to wear it or the police will force you, no matter how big you are.
“Because, the fact that you want to die, does not mean that I want to die. Believe me, I want to live. People have to comply as there is no big man about death, if you want to die, you can go to your house and die peacefully whether you are a big man or a poor man. Everybody must obey the rules.”
He further stated: “In fact, this is more like a test run. I told them I want only 30 persons and I’m sure we are more than that, so imagine what happens when you have to deal with passengers. This test run will make us go back to the drawing board and the first thing we will put in place when we get approval is that the cost of transportation to Kaduna from Abuja will double because each coach takes 88 passengers but we will reduce to 44 and the implication is that the price will increase. We need to talk to the president before we move on that.”
“The next thing is everybody must come with his own hand sanitizer, government won’t buy for you and it has to have minimum of 90% alcohol. Next thing is that you must come with your face mask without which you won’t enter, if you enter and bring it down, we will stop and you will come down even if it is in the bush.”
On the Itakpe – Ajaoukuta – Warri corridor, he said: “I have just been briefed that Julius Berger has packed out, CCECC is maintaining just a little presence, they want us to take over so that they can also leave. NRC/ Ministry will take over and the director rail will be Managing Director for now until we make arrangements, until they do their final inspection and take over from CCECC, the Contractor, and then Julius Berger then we move on from there.”
He expressed satisfaction with the quality of work. “When you see a good job, don’t ask questions. The camera will show that this is a good job, this is the Goodluck Jonathan Agbor Station which incorporates the railway facilities. Both Julius Berger, CCECC and Team have all done a good job.
“We will know if NRC has done a good job when they manage it properly because the issue is Maintenance. I don’t want to come here in the next four, five years and it looks worn out. I have seen the toilet facilities they look good but typical of us, I hope in the next five years it will be intact because in Kubwa now, those things look worn out, if you break anything, replace it or repair it. I think we should learn to maintain the infrastructure that we inherit.”
Continuing, he said, “railway is about cargo and the MD has just told me that they will bring their pipes from Warri port and we Transport it for them, that’s money, any production from Ajaokuta will be conveyed by this rail track and I’ve been told they are discussing with Dangote and BUA cement.
“The essentials for this will be cargo and it will start immediately the rail starts working. We will be ready but I don’t know if they will be ready.”
On timeline for completion of all rail projects, Amaechi hinted that it was difficult to deal with timelines now.
“We were determined to complete Lagos-Ibadan by May, I don’t know when we will start Lagos- Kano but when we start, we will be requiring more than 10,000 workers, Kaduna-Kano 10,000 workers, Ilorin to Ibadan 10,000 workers. How can we do that when we are trying to maintain social distancing? If you can’t get that number and you get 1000 workers you will be reduced by 90 per cent, then we are in trouble.”
He however said, “but I want to take the position of the President that the fact that there is COVID-19 does not mean we can’t work, in fact that’s one reason you see me here today. If there is one man who is scared of COVID-19, I am but then I also have to do my work as minister of Transportation.”