In Nigeria, the Slow, Winding Return of the Train Service

Nigeria train service
Nigeria is spending billions on its train service

AFRICANGLOBE – The resumption of direct train service between Lagos and Kano by the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) has been postponed several times in the past.

The delay in the resumption of the service, however, ended on Friday, December 21, 2012, when a 20-coach passenger train left the Iddo Railway Terminus in Lagos for Kano.

Observers recall that the last time a direct train journey between Lagos and Kano took place was over 10 years ago. The rail line from Lagos to Kano, also known as the Western Line, covers a distance of 1,126 km and traverses Abeokuta, Ibadan, Ilorin, Jebba, Minna and Kaduna, before terminating in the ancient city of Kano.

The Port Harcourt-Maiduguri route, known as the Eastern Line, passes through Aba, Umuahia, Enugu, Markurdi, Lafia, Kanfachan, Bauchi, Gombe and Potiskum, before ending in Maiduguri. The line, which is currently undergoing rehabilitation, may be inaugurated this year.

Similarly, direct train service from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri has also been in limbo just like the Western Line. Observers attribute the development to the utter neglect of the transportation sector by successive governments, which had also affected shipping, aviation and other services in the sector.

Therefore, it was a thrilling moment for the NRC on December 21, when it simultaneously commenced the haulage of petroleum products from Lagos to Kaduna. The corporation had earlier acquired pressurised tank wagons for the purpose and it moved 30 tankers of diesel from Ebute-Metta in Lagos to Kaduna.

Earlier, in 2011 to be precise, the NRC reintroduced the Lagos-Ilorin passenger services. This was in addition to the introduction of a 30-kilomtre mass transit service between Lagos and Ijoko (Ogun) and the service has become quite popular among workers and traders, as it moves more than 12,000 persons on a daily basis.

At the launch of the resuscitated Lagos-Kano train service, the Minister of Transport, Idris Umar, said that the revival of the service reflected the commitment President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to revamping the run-down facilities of the transport sector, particularly the railways.

Umar, who launched the service and undertook a ride with passengers from Iddo to Ikeja, stressed that the government was making tangible efforts to re-establish a vibrant railway system in Nigeria because of its importance to the country’s economic growth.

Efforts to Resuscitate Train Service

Although efforts to resuscitate railway transportation began before the inception of the current federal administration, one of its programmes – the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) – has com-mitted about N1 billion to the project in recent times.

Dr Christopher Kolade, the Chairman of SURE-P, who spoke at the launch of the Lagos-Kano train service on Dec. 21, said that the intervention was a confirmation of the determination of the Jonathan-administration to revive railway transportation to enable it to contribute to the country’s economic growth.

Kolade, who was represented by Mr Chike Okogwu, a member of SURE-P committee, said that the intervention was a potent avenue of investing the Federal Government’s savings from the partial removal of the subsidy on petroleum products and providing vocational training in rail tracks’ maintenance.

He stressed that the successful inauguration of regular rail services between Lagos and Kano also vindicated President Jonathan’s establishment of the innovative socio-economic intervention prog-ramme. Kolade pledged that the fruits of SURE-P’s intervention in critical sectors of the economy would become visible to Nigerians in the years ahead.

In his remark, Mr Adeseyi Sijuwade, the Managing Director of the NRC, said that the successful re-introduction of the Lagos-Kano train service was a promise made and kept by the Federal Government.

Although Sijuwade had earlier assured the nation that the train service would commence in July, its five-month delay was attributed to the heavy flooding across the country, which adversely affected rail tracks and washed off a bridge on the 1,126km-rail line earlier in the year.

He also said that N67 billion had been set aside for the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt-Markudi-Maiduguri rail line, adding that its inauguration would soon come up and be celebrated as that of the Lagos-Kano line.

“Already, we move about 12,000 commuters daily within Lagos and about 4,000 from Lagos to Ilorin on Tuesdays and Fridays. The Ilorin-Lagos train trip is on Wednesdays and Sundays,” Sijuwade said shortly before the launch of the Lagos-Kano service.

Observers note that the revival of train services on the Western Line is expected to reduce the heavy presence of haulage trucks on some major highways, particularly the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, where articulated vehicles had continued to be a major cause of accidents.