Major decisions were taken in 2019 as regards the rail sector of the country by the federal government. Some of the decisions were seen as a consolidation to gains earlier made.
While many citizens argue Nigeria should have moved past the stage in which it is in the rail system, others disagree. Those dissenting, argue that the country would eventually achieve success in the sector at the rate it is going.
This sector had been abandoned for years until the Olusegun Obasanjo administration conceived the Abuja-Kaduna rail project.
The immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan ensured that the project got completed at the time it exited power in 2015.
Since then the maintenance of the project and initiation of new projects have been the business of the transport ministry led by Rotimi Amaechi under the President Muhammadu Buhari government.
Many actions taken by the Jonathan and Buhari administrations are seen as attempts to resuscitate the country’s decaying railway system.
The projects were mostly characterised by delays.
Completion of rehabilitation of the Lagos-Ibadan rail line
The Jonathan administration and later the Buhari government oversaw the resuscitation of this rail line that was first constructed in the 1900s.
The rehabilitation was completed in 2019 and the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) commenced free rides before the year ended.
Before the completion, there were rumours of alleged misappropriation of funds and overpricing of the project.
The cost of the rail track was compared to a shorter rail track under construction in Ghana by the same contractor.
The rumour was later debunked by the federal government which said Ghana “does not have any agreement with the contractors”.
Although many have expressed unhappiness with the “snail speed” of the train (40km/h), this would be the first time that the service on the route would work in about 20 years.
The government believes that the service on this route – Iju (Lagos) to Ologuneru (Ibadan) – would boost commercial activities in that axis. Until more coaches arrive, the service can only accommodate 36 passengers.
Itakpe-Warri rail line
This rail line was initially constructed in the 80s to export iron-ore through the port in Warri but the transportation ministry under Mr Amaechi decided to convert it to a passenger route.
The rail line cuts across Kogi, Edo and Delta states.
Mr Amaechi argued that the movement of goods and passengers along that route will improve the country’s economy.
Most train stations on that route are almost complete. The service which terminates at a port in Warri has not yet been opened to the public.
Interestingly, the federal government in October signed a $3.9 billion agreement with China Railway Construction Company International for the construction of a line from Abuja to Itakpe.
This means passengers will soon be able to travel from Abuja to Delta by rail.
The minister has also expressed optimism that the project would be completed speedily.
Operations on this route began after the president commissioned the rail service in 2016. Since then, the Buhari administration has been making attempts to maintain the service.
Additional coaches have been added and security has been enhanced following the pressure put on it by the insecurity ravaging the Abuja-Kaduna expressway.
The transport sector, of which the rail system is part of, contributes a meager 1.41 per cent to the Gross National Product (GNP) according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) figures.
There is also clamour that the ticketing system for train services should be electronic in a bid to curb leakages and enhance revenue for the government.
Wagon assembly plant
As part of efforts to boost the ongoing railway modernisation programme of the federal government, a Wagon Assembly Plant was inaugurated by the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at Kajola in Ifo council area of Ogun State.
The federal government has in marchy 2018 signed an agreement with Messrs. CCECC Nig. Limited to establish the plant for the production and assembling of rolling stock, spare parts, and maintenance equipment in Nigeria.
According to Mr. Ameachi, the plant is expected to provide about 5,000 jobs and also enable Nigeria to manufacture rolling stocks for local use and for other African countries.
During his ministry’s budget defence before the National Assembly’s joint committee marine transport, Mr Amaech disclosed that over 150 persons were sent to two universities in China, funded by the Chinese government to study railway engineering.
“We hope that in four years they will graduate. Those who will do masters and Ph.D. will do that. We are establishing a transportation university in Daura. We are making sure that we have the manpower to take over from the Chinese. We are trying to localise railway technology,” he said.
He said he hopes that in the coming years, “they will come back and then we can stop the Chinese maintenance contract in both Kaduna-Abuja and Lagos-Ibadan.”
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