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Nigeria’s Rail Transport Revolution and the Challenges Ahead By Olisemeka Obeche

December 26, 2012

After more than 50 years of neglect, the federal government seems to have realised the importance of efficient rail transport system in solving the country’s transportation and economic problems. And having committed hundreds of billion of naira into revitalizing the hitherto comatose industry, the government feels it is time Nigerians enjoy rail transport again. But it appears the challenges of providing efficient rail transport system in Nigeria transcend the euphoria of putting the trains back on track. OLISEMEKA OBECHE examines the prospects and the challenges. 

President Goodluck Jonathan was obviously in ecstatic mood   recently when he, among other top government officials, rode in one of the new locomotives owned by the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) from Lagos to Abeokuta, Ogun State.
Apparently, the joy of reopening a relatively moribund rail system, a feat that even former  President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration failed to accomplish after spending billions of dollars on it, knew no bound in Jonathan’s heart. And he gladly acknowledged that as he exclaimed: “I am excited about this opportunity,” while cutting the tape before they set out for the two-hour journey in a brand-new coach labelled ‘Dame Patience Jonathan’ from Ebutte-Metta, Lagos through the 98-kilometer rail track to Abeokuta.
The president’s commissioning of the newly revitalised Lagos-Jebba rail lines which cost the nation N12.13 billion of tax payers’ money was viewed in the presidency as a major achievement for the administration.
The Economy learnt that the event was described by top government officials as the beginning of a new dawn of a golden era of modern rail transport system in Nigeria, as envisaged in the Seven-Point Agenda of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua administration. At least, for a government that was struggling to shrug off allegations of non-performance, a revitalised rail system becomes a joker to win unconvinced electorate.
For Mr. Yusuf Suleiman, the Minister of Transport and other top officials in the NRC, expectations are high that when the 640km Jebba-Kano phase of the rehabilitation exercise awarded to Costain West Africa Plc in December 2009 at the cost of N12.2 billion is completed, the dream of offering long distance, cost-effective and efficient train services in the country would be fully realised.

A new dawn of rail system: 
President Jonathan’s symbolic train ride came following a successful launch of Maiduguri-Duwari Mass Transit Train Service (MTTS). Already, the corporation has begun mass transit train services in Jos, Kano and Kaduna.
This development, according to NRC Managing Director, Mr. Adeseyi Sijuade is a landmark event that shows the commitment of the corporation to perform its statutory function to take charge of efficient rail system.
The launch of Mass Transit Train Service, he said, “is in line with the promise of the federal government to revamp the railway with a view to running freight and passenger train services most effectively and in conformity with global trends”, adding that “in no distant time we shall replicate similar MTTS services in Enugu and Port Harcourt as soon as the road construction embarked upon by the Rivers State government around the track line is completed”.
The NRC Director of Public Relations, Mr. David Ndakotsu, also disclosed that the corporation has begun an intercity MTTS in Lagos with 11 trains carrying close to 15,000 passengers daily.
However, as part of plans to revitalise and modernise rail transport in the country, the federal government recently signed a N67 billion contracts for the rehabilitation of 2,119-kilometre three Eastern rail lines, comprising 463-kilometre rail line from Port Harcourt to Makurdi; 1,016 kilometres rail line from Makurdi to Kuru including spur line to Jos and Kafanchan; and 640-kilometre rail line from Kuru to Maiduguri respectively.
Minister of Transport, Mr. Yusuf Suleiman, said the scope of the contracts covers a comprehensive rehabilitation of the track, bridges, and culverts within the 2,119 kilometres track lines.
The project contracted to three construction firms: China Gezhouba Group Corporation (CGGC), Esser Contracting and Industry Ltd and Lingo Nigeria Ltd; is expected to be completed before the end of the year.
According to sources within the corporation, the NRC would soon begin to operate long distance express passenger train services from Port-Harcourt to Kano, Lagos to Kano; Lagos to Jos and Maiduguri, as well as Port-Harcourt to Jos and Maiduguri.
“These services will include offer of full air conditioning to the 1st class “seater” or “sleeper” luxury saloons, with restaurant cars equipped with conveniences”, sources disclosed.
“We will make it a journey mixed with pleasure and excitement as we now have luxury coaches with exposed veranda for outdoor viewing, palour, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, store and visitors among others,” he added.
Chairman Board of Directors, Nigerian Railway Corporation, Dr Bello Haliru Mohammed, assured that the revived railway sector would contribute significantly to Nigeria’s economic drive. “The aim of this government is that by the end of 2015, the railway system in Nigeria will be contributing significantly to the transport industry”.
According to him, the commencement of mass transit train services in six major cities – Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Maiduguri, Jos and Kano will go a long way to “ease the problem of mobility within the cities and reduce congestion, particularly in Lagos”,
On the prospect of recouping over N200 billion already spent in reviving the railway system in the country, Mohammed gave an overview of the corporation’s latest business stratagem to turn the system into money-spinning venture.
“In the business plan, we intend to bring all traditional customers of the railway who left and are now using road or water transportation back to patronize the railway. We have customers like the Flour Mills who have moved their stocks from Lagos to the north; we have some cement companies which are relocating from north to south; we have the cattle traders; kolanut traders and the farm produce merchants.
“We also have the various food industries, the Nigerian breweries, the Nigerian Bottling Company; they all used to be our customers; the importers from Lagos, Port Harcourt and Warri ports all used to make use of the railway,” he said.

Nigeria’s rail transport appraisal:
Before now, the Nigerian railway system had been in a poor state with previous administrations unable to rescue it from further plunge into abyss. With a network of approximately 3,500km of narrow gauge lines between Onne and the Enugu-Port Harcourt among other places and a yet to be completed 320km standard gauge line from Ajaokuta to Warri, the Nigerian railway system was best described as a colonial property.
The implication was that aside the concept developed during colonial administration which was principally designed to service the colonial transport needs of moving vital goods from hinterland to the ports for shipment to Europe, Nigeria did not think of redesigning a rail system that would serve its economic purpose. In view of that, a large chunk of the nation’s routes that have witnessed increasing movement of goods and services were still left uncovered, thus forcing commuters to rely entirely on roads.
However, many seem to have breathed a sigh of relief when the present administration last year came up with a new transport policy, with the development of rail and water transportation featuring prominently. The primary goal of the policy, The Economy learnt, is to transform the railway system in Nigeria from its present condition to an efficient, flexible and competitive mode of transport; to enable it play its full part in the country’s transport system.
According to the ‘Draft National Transport Policy, published in August 2010 by the federal government, “the Nigerian railway system has the potential to provide an efficient and cost-effective means of transportation, particularly on long distance routes serving high density traffic flows”.
The document read in parts: “Railways can provide the most cost-effective, affordable, energy-saving and environmentally-friendly form of transportation, when traffic densities are high. The railways are also well suited for the movement of large numbers of inter-city passengers and high volumes of containerised cargo or bulk freight such as oil, coal, steel or agricultural produce”.
On the deplorable state of the rail transport system over the years, the report noted that “it has deteriorated in all areas, and caught up in a vicious circle of declining traffic, endemic deficits, decreasing capacity to serve its customers resulting in further loss of revenue. In short, the railways have ceased to be economically viable, if the present imbalance of the transport sector is to be corrected and the goals arising from increasing industrialisation be actualized, the Nigerian railway must be resuscitated”.
The resuscitation of the Nigerian railways, according to the policy analysis, will not bear fruits until the management weaknesses, corruption, nepotism and institutional decadence which bedeviled the railway system for over four decades are addressed.
“There is an urgent need to address this situation by establishing a functional, efficient and viable railway system in the country”, it observed.
According to some stakeholders, the only solution is to transfer the management and operations of the railway system to the private sector. Already, the idea of ‘vertically integrated concessions’ is being considered by the current administration as the first phase of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) framework in the railways sector.
Findings reveal that the government substantial commitment of investment to rehabilitate the railway was designed to give confidence to the private sector to invest in the industry.
This forms the crux of the policies contained in the draft ’25-Year Strategic Vision for the Nigerian Railway System’ which encapsulates a comprehensive plan for the rehabilitation and expansion of the railway as a viable transport system.
Hence, government’s plan to privatise the Nigerian Railway Corporation in a bid to engender efficiency and profitability of the nation’s railways. Under the privatization plan, three separate concessions of 25-30 years would be granted to private-sector companies to run train services in the western, central, and eastern regions.

Wider train network:
Albeit, most Nigerians have hailed the ongoing revitalization of the railways, analysts believe it is not yet uhuru, as most important routes across the country with high volume passenger traffic are yet to be connected by rail.
“We are happy that at last, railways have been nursed back to life by this government. But we should not forget that we are still operating within the same network established by the colonial government”, Mr. Eugene Ugwu, a retired railway worker said.
“We need a railway system that can really take care of the transportation needs of the country, not this current one that serve as a reminder of the British imperialism”, added, Mr. Segun Adeosun, a Lagos-based business man.
According to him, it is unthinkable that after 50 years of independence, Nigerian leaders have not repositioned the country’s transportation system to meet its developmental needs; rather they still rely on the same old networks.
Many have queried the inability of the federal government to consider the urgency in constructing a rail line connecting the South-west and South-east from Lagos, through Benin, Onitsha to Calabar, or linking Abuja to the ports and other parts of the country.
Albeit, the federal government has conducted feasibility studies on the rail lines to connect Lagos through Benin to the eastern part of the country, many believe it is less likely that government will undertake such project in the nearest future. With that notion, the chances of expanding the railways beyond the current networks could only be possible through the involvement of private investors. As Dr Bello Haliru Mohammed puts it, with open arms the NRC “wants to welcome anybody who wishes to invest in the railway sector so that we can have an integrated system that is working”.
Of major concern also is the need to tackle the traffic situation in the country’s major cities through the establishment of rail system. In Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Ibadan among other cities where traffic snarls have reached embarrassing level due to the increasing number of cars plying the roads, experts and commuters see efficient rail transport system as the solution.
It is noteworthy that the Lagos State government has embarked on an expansive rail project to link the Lagos Island with Badagary, a popular route that has endured decades of traffic gridlock. Enugu State government is reportedly on the verge of embarking on a mono-rail project in the capital city to enhance  transportation system in the state. Reports also have it that Bayelsa and Rivers states are still exploring the possibility of constructing a high-speed rail line to connect the two states via their capitals, Yenagoa and Port Harcourt. This plan has been in the pipeline since July 2007.
With the other states also indicating interest in establishing rail systems in their shores through partnership agreements, and the federal government already making moves to open the sector to private investment, many believe that a new dawn has arrived. The challenge, however, remains how committed is the government towards facilitating the removal of all barriers to encourage private sector participation in the huge project.
Currently, prospective investors are lamenting the cost of doing business in Nigeria, which obviously is still high, and it requires more than mere promises to attract investors into a sector that has remained comatose for years.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 19, 2013 08:32

    what are the advantages of railway transportation and disadvantages.also what are role of federal Government on the railway.

  2. omolayo Abdul permalink
    March 13, 2014 13:16

    what are the advantages of railway transportation and disadvantages.also what are role of federal Government on the railway?

  3. June 8, 2015 08:59

    Thank you for sharing this article. Efficient rail transport system pulls nigeria into another level of development and advancement. MTTS service gives a great run for nigerian rail transportation, When throwing our eyes to the road transportation , GIG motors provide a great luxury and comfortness in the services they provide.

  4. June 12, 2015 14:10

    When will Lagos rail service become fully in operation?

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