It is a dream come true
Several commuters in Lagos recently heaved a sigh of relief as the first phase of the Blue Rail Line commenced commercial operations. Thirteen kilometres in length, the rail links the mainland with the Island and runs from Marina to Mile 2. It will service five stations including Marina, National Theatre, Iganmu, Alaba and Mile 2, and when completed will extend operations to Okokomaiko on the outskirts. Powered by electricity and fitted with standard cars that are automated, the train runs 80 kilometre per hour, and is forecast to move 250,000 passengers daily. Ironically, it was commissioned last January by former President Muhammadu Buhari, who incidentally stopped the state rail project when it was first conceived 40 years ago.
We commend the Lagos State government for this massive infrastructural investment. Indeed, the Lagos State Transport Master Plan (STMP) has made provision for six rail lines and one monorail, 14 Bus Rapid Transit routes, 485 Independent Bus Routes, and over 20 water terminals, with regular upgrades every 10 years to accommodate changing realities. The 37-kilometre Red Line, which will also be operational soon, is being implemented in two phases. The construction of the first phase from Agbado to Oyingbo, a 27-kilometre stretch, is about 90 per cent completed with stations at Oyingbo, Yaba, Mushin, Oshodi, Ikeja, Agege, Iju and Agbado.
For cities like Lagos, rail provides a significant escape from the potholed-ridden roads and vexatious traffic gridlocks which have become permanent features of the environment. Indeed, commuters in Lagos and beyond have for years awaited the take-off of the blue and red lines, strategic mass transit vehicles aimed at easing the daily traffic nightmare. Lagos is home to about 20 million people and to more than four million small cars, rickety buses, fume-belching trucks, and three-wheeled rickshaws. These in addition to hordes of commuter motorbikes, all jostling to negotiate roads most of which are in poor shapes.
Amid all of this, the chaotic traffic is sometimes slower than walking speed. Even in the most affluent part of town, the joy in car ownership is counterbalanced by the awfulness of the traffic. The new rail lines will hopefully ease the traffic congestion, reduce traffic accidents, take out some of the strain from commuters, and in the era of climate change, help in containing the worsening air pollution associated with emissions from many ill-maintained vehicles on the roads.
With the intra-city rail services, many commuters in Lagos have a choice, even if limited, on how they want to move within the city as transportation is slowly but increasingly becoming multi-modal. A ferry system, even though still needs plenty attention, is offering a faster alternative to time spent on the road, just as the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network in which buses run on dedicated lanes on surface streets. These are in addition to the buses taking people to and from their streets and neighbourhoods, all striving for a more efficient public transportation system.
To ensure safety of the commuters, there are 300 cameras at every station and on the tracks, trained staff to secure the facilities in addition to plain clothes security operatives on board. Security is vital to the smooth operations of the rails as could be learned from the ones operated across the country by the federal government where some criminal elements have almost ruined the rails constructed at huge costs to the nation.
However, while having infrastructure is commendable, maintaining it properly is much more important. And that is usually a problem in Nigeria. The Lagos intra-city trains have been built at enormous cost, mostly through debts. We therefore hope that they will run like proper businesses to ensure adequate value and sustainability.