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Nigeria Railway System: So Far, How Far?
After so many years of hoping for an efficient railway system in the country, the dream seems closer to reality as the contractors work assiduously to meet the target set for the end of first quarter this year.DELE ADERIBIGBE and EBENEZER ADUROKIYA write on the latest effort to revamp the rail system in the country.
The economy of any country is not seen as healthy and complete without having a functional and efficient rail system in place.
Ranging from its ability to convey cargos over long distances at reasonable costs to lifting and distributing petroleum products to all parts of the country, the railway helps to reduce much reliance on articulated vehicles on roads that often lead to intra-city traffic problems and subsequently fatal accidents, carnage and deterioration of highways.
If Nigeria is, at present, not enjoying the good services of what a rail system should provide, it is simply because successive governments were responsible for its collapse.
Good old days
Statistics has it that in 1964, 11,288,000 passengers and 2,960,000 tonnes of freight carried by the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) dropped to 4,342,000 passengers and 1,098,000 tonnes of freight in 1974. Recent statistics also showed that the passenger traffic grew back to 6.7 million in 1978, reaching a peak of 15.5 million in 1984 through the assistance of RITES of India, courtesy the regime of General Muhammadu Buhari.
There was yet a further decline, according to the statistics, to 3.0 million in 1991 and 1.6 million in 2003. In the 80s, the NRC, acclaimed as the biggest employer of labour, used to boast of not less than 33,000 workers against the present 6,000 workers. Before 1955, the Nigerian rail enterprise was the exclusive preserve of NRC by the 1955 Nigeria Railway Act which forbade the involvement of the private sector.
The Nigerian Railway Corporation bill, designed to correct this obsolete and retrogressive 1955 Act, was said to be awaiting the second reading at the National Assembly as of October last year. The National Assembly had so far done justice to this act with a view to encouraging public-private partnership which ultimately will yield a stronger and better rail transport industry as well as block major source of public fund drainpipes and provide government the opportunity to rechannel resources to strategic areas that need urgent attention.
In the 70s and early 80s, the railway system flourished, executed its role perfectly and declared enormous profits. In those glorious days, commuters could predict take-off time and therefore keep appointments without any disappoinment or hitches.
But not too long after, a decline set in such that the equipment and facilities of the once-adored rail system suddenly disappeared. Facilities in places like Zaria, Enugu and Ebute-Meta became a shadow of what they used to be. The entire means of transportation, but for recent development, reduced to just about one per cent of the total means of transportation in the country.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the nation’s rail provider, NRC, was, before now, plagued with inevitable and self-inflicted problems that had led to its near-moribund state before the present government decided to take the bull by the horns. One of such problems was, inclusive of corruption, poor maintenance, dwindled and ill-motivated workforce and poor signalling and telecommunications equipment, among others, “which have reduced the once-thriving corporation to its present sorry state,” according to Mr. Seyi Sijuwade, Managing Director of the NRC while chatting with pressmen recently.
Perhaps, holding the record of the largest employer of labour at its peak, the railway corporation in the country is currently undergoing a new phase to reclaim its glorious past. Towards this goal, the country had contracted companies from different parts of the world to effect the turnaround at one time or the other.
Romanian, Indian and Chinese companies had worked on revamping the railway without success. It was not until 2006 when a more aggressive, radical, and deliberate effort was midwifed by the Federal Government in the context of Public-Private Partnership) (PPP).
Before the present serious work at the various sections of the country started, the corporation had been in a state of decrepit. It was the Umaru Yar’Adua administration in 2007 that came up with the reclamation of the sector in its seven-point agenda. But before then, many contracts were awarded for the rehabilitation of the rail system which never saw the light of the day. For instance, the regime of the late General Sani Abacha allegedly awarded a Chinese company, Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), $500 million with no result. Also, former President Olusegun Obasanjo awarded yet another sum of $8 million to the same Chinese company for the design, construction and maintenance of 1,315 kilometres of standard gauge double-track line from Lagos to Kano which was eventually got enmeshed in allegations of graft and failure to observe due process.
Between 1999 and 2008, it is believed that about N124.9 billion was spent on the rail project with nothing to show for it, at least, as of then.
In order to bring the new railway system in the country at par with its contemporaries across the world, 25 new C25-EMPD locomotive engines were ordered for the corporation from General Electric (GE) in Brazil and South America, at a cost of $76.2m.
These computerised, self-diagnosing, 2500 horsepower locomotive engines with vast memory endowment to record all operational activities performed on them, and of which the whole 25 have been delivered to the corporation, have put the corporation at a vantage position to operate an efficient transport system.
The rehabilitation programme is no doubt already yielding some dividends nationwide. According to Segun Esan of the Public Relations division of the Nigeria Railway Corporation, "the Lagos to Jebba route, a track distance of 488km that was contracted out to China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), is nearing completion of rehabilitation with significant progress in excavation of track bed to formation level, clamping of rails and sleepers, and ballasting. A considerable number of culverts and concrete U-drains has been done in this axial line."
Apart from this, the 640km Jebba to Kano, handled by Messrs Costain West Africa (CWA), has also recorded several rehabilitation works. Among the retinue of rehabilitation works done include culvert and drainage works at Akerri- Minna, Kaduna-Kano, Kano-Challowa sections; screening and ballasting of tracks and bridge works, level-crossing rehabilitation, and dredging of the silted Akerri River.
From the Lagos end, the rehabilitation process has got to Ibadan with the old materials used for the tracks removed and replaced with new ones.
According to Calistus Onyemadu, the Public Relations Officer of the Western District of the corporation, by September 2010, the 25 locomotives ordered by the corporation had been delivered. He added that by the end of this month, the line from Lagos to Jebba south would have been completed.
"Already, we have been having sectional delivery of the rail lines. The line from Lagos to Ibadan had been delivered, but by the end of February, the line from Lagos to Jebba south, which comprises the Lagos and Western Districts of the corporation, would have been delivered. Then by the end of the first quarter of the year, it is expected that all the lines across the country would have been delivered," Onyemadu said.
As a precursor to national network of railway transport in the country, the corporation has begun Intra-City Mass Transit Trains Services (11 trains per day) in Lagos and Kano as it plans to replicate same in Port-Harcourt, Jos, Maiduguri, and Enugu soon as the on-going 10-month rehabilitation project ends.
Mr. Esan said that the ongoing rehabilitation was targeted at revamping and restoring all movable and fixed infrastructural assets of the corporation with a view to running freight and passenger trans-services effectively and efficiently.
In deft preparation for this, coaching facilities, guard vans, power cars, rail cars and buses have been refurbished in Carriage and Wagon workshops of the Corporation in Kafanchan, Zaria, Enugu and Lagos. In order to attract the high net-worth citizens to the ever bourgeoning clientele of the corporation, fully air-conditioned, 60-seater passenger coaches have been introduced in Lagos.
Also, all arrangements have been put in place for the commencement of 3,600 tonne-cement freight train from Larfarge Cement Company at Ewekoro and Lakatabu to Lagos and environs.
The first phase of the cement haulage project for Larfarge by Nigerian Railway from December 23, 2010 will, as soon as Bridge 94 at Aro Abeokuta and Akerri Bridge in Niger State are completely rehabilitated, graduate to the second phase of the laudable project when same products will be transported massively to other parts of the country like Ilorin, Offa, Osogbo, Jebba, Mokwa, Zungeru, Minna, Kaduna, and Kano.
To achieve a hitch-free and outstandingly successful haulage of the cement products, the corporation has dedicated two new GE locomotive engines and 15 roofed wagons to the project for a start.
By this singular act of collaboration between the corporation and Larfarge Cement Company, the ever-busy road network will be made safer and little more long-lasting as pressure of cement haulage by trailers is taken off. Beyond this, the knock-on effects of efficient and viable rail transport mode on the transport sub-economy will stimulate sustainable growth of the national economy.
In order to reposition the corporation’s workshops, stations and marshalling yards for improved and quality repair/maintenance works on its wagons, coaching facilities and motive power, so many multi-million naira tools and equipment have been purchased and delivered to the corporation.
On the 257km Ajaokuta-Warri standard gauge track line, Julius Berger has been adequately mobilised back to site so as to complete the remaining 22km of the track as well as build train stations with a view to upgrading the Ajaokuta -Warri axial line from exclusive freight-carrying route to passenger-carrying rail system.
While efforts at resuscitating the moribund rail system in Nigeria is beginning to yield positive results, some pending grey areas must be looked into as every good thing will surely have its side effects. In the wake of the commencement of the rehabilitation exercise in 2009 for instance, structures illegally erected beside railways were demolished with no consideration for their owners.These demolition took place in Ibadan, Kano and some other cities.There were accusations from some of these victims that before the demolition of their structures, some staff members of the corporation were collecting rent from them as payment for the spots being used. It was also alleged that the 15-metre stipulated distance that must be left between the rails and the border line was not strictly adhered to when the demolitions were being carried out.
Harzards of railway
In glare manifestation of one of the harzards of the railway system, a cargo train was reportedly said to have derailed in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, killing one person. The train, belonging to NRC, took members of staff over seven hours to break before the corpse of the assistant locomotive driver could be brought out. The Minister of Transport, Alhaji Suleiman, was said to have expressed the fact that the area where the incident occurred was prone to accidents. Such areas must be worked on if the entire rehabilitation exercise would be taken serious by Nigerians who are eagerly waiting for a safer and less-cumbersome transport system in the country.
It is common knowledge that in some parts of the world, the rail lines do not come in contact with roads as obtainable in Nigeria. They have their own separate routes. However, because of this peculiarity, many accidents had occured on such spots, especially in the Lagos area where there is a large population that had got used to the train not running on the tracks due to many years of neglect. At Yaba area few years back, traders took over the rail tracks and would only leave when a train approached.
“With the anticipated increase in passenger train services and eventual return of goods trains, no doubt, the traffic on the nation’s rehabilitated tracks will be enormous. By extension, this will call for more attention for the level crossings with a view to drastically reducing collision of vehicles with the trains,” Mr. Esan, the PRO of the Lagos district said, adding that “unlike Nigerian Railway, whose grid is not separated and independent of road network, other advanced countries of the world separate their rail tracks from the roads, but for those with level crossings on their rail tracks as Nigeria, over 75 per cent of collisions and accidents involving vehicles and trains occur at the level crossings.”Share