Will this railway carry us home?

Date: 2014-01-05

Rail as a means of transportation in Nigeria is gradually being resuscitated by the President Jonathan administration after failed attempts by successive governments. In this piece, 
TADE MAKINDE reports the response this bold attempt has generated among commuters and the future of this means of transportation.

Adeniji Bolade is a marketer with a detergent company in Ibadan. Early this year, he was transferred to Ilorin, Kwara State, by the company with no increase in wages, neither was he given a transfer allowance. Even at that, he is expected to move the company’s products from Ibadan to Ilorin without provision for transportation. It is a new company trying to survive. Niji has been unemployed for 6 years and is desperate to hold on to his new job.

While he worked in Ibadan, he made an arrangement with a cab driver who helped him move the products once every week to Agbeni market where his major customer re-distributed the product. He makes up for this cost from the special commission he makes for meeting the company’s target every month.

Over time, Niji had saved quite a lot for the rainy day, which came soon after his transfer was effected.

Moving the products to Ilorin by road quickly ate into what he had saved up and was on the verge of buckling after three months when an old school mate advised him to start moving his products by rail. “It is cheaper and even safer”, he had advised, but the young marketer would not consider that option until his mother confirmed the gradual functioning of the railway system in Ibadan.

It is not only in Ibadan that the rail system is now gradually working after almost four decades of neglect by the government, things are looking good in other major rail districts in Nigeria.

After hibernating in Akure, Ondo State, for almost a year following the loss of his job as a top official with a telecommunications company, Tunde Animashaun moved back to Lagos in February to work with a PR Agency in Surulere, Yaba.

While working in Lagos before he lost his job, he had three cars. His new job requires that Tunde, an Executive Director, gets to his new office before 9a.m every Tuesday and Wednesday for management meetings, or his wages would be deducted by an undisclosed amount. “It’s the kind of money I can’t spare”, he admits, hence he resorts to railway trips twice a week and thrice by road.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday, Tunde joins the thousands of passengers who move around Lagos by rail to their different destinations, but in style. For N500,he takes a luxury seat inside the air-conditioned first class coach with other corporate players who like to make London out of Lagos in a train. “The room is for classy passengers. We even get to discuss business without the distraction that comes  in a BRT bus or Moolue,”.

It’s not totally true that there are no distractions as urchins. For as little as N50, such category of users pack themselves, like sardine, in the tail end of the coaches. Smelly as that coach is, it is the only section that is always filled to the brim with passengers.

Tina Onagbemi is a 200 level undergraduate at the  Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria, Kaduna, but lives in Abeokuta, Ogun State. She happened to be on holidays to the hilly city last year when the President made a trip to the city in a train to the delight of many who had desired the revival of the rail transport. The symbolic drive in a train by the president was to draw attention to the once-neglected but alternative ways of moving passengers and products in the country.

These above examples are too few considering the number of people who have now embraced train travels from the north to south and eastern parts of Nigeria.

In fact, the Nigerian Railway Corporation recently informed Nigerians that since the revival of rail travels. The number of users hit the one million mark few weeks ago.

Gradually, the once-moribund corporation is beginning to function, though at  a slow pace as workers and passengers both complain of insufficient coaches to mass-transport the ever-increasing patronage of trains.

On a train ride from Ikeja to Ebute Meta recently, it is plain to see that more Nigerians now move around in trains.

Every week, passengers travel twice along the Lagos-Kano-Lagos route; Lagos-Ilorin-Lagos route and Kano-Lagos-Kano route, carrying on the average, 3,500 passengers, while in Lagos alone, 18 Lagos Mass Transit Trains shuttle about 20,000 passengers everyday between Iddo/Apapa and Agbado/Ijoko.

Also at the Dugbe, Ibadan general office of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC),  the story is the same as students, traders, tourists, in their hundreds, troop to the now-flourishing office to buy tickets to travel around the country.

With only Mondays and Thursdays off for now, Ibadan-based passengers travel either First class or Second class from (Western), Lagos to Ilorin to Kano, and also Port Harcourt to Maiduguri  (Northern).

Of the two lines, only the Western district, headquarters in Ebute Meta, Lagos, is the busiest. It covers Ifo and Jebba south in Kwara State, Ogun, Oyo, Osun State to Kaduna, Kano. Ondo State has been left out “because of the way the state has been constructed”, says Francis Unyimadu District Public Relations Officer of NRC Western District.

In the first class session, the 60 passengers enjoy air conditioner: get to watch movies and also have sleeper cells, depending on the fare, while the 90 passenger capacity second class don’t get to enjoy such luxury.

At N 180 from Abeokuta, to N260 and N340, second class, first class( seater) and first class(sleeper cell) respectively, one could travel to Osogbo, Offa and Ilorin.

For travellers from Osogbo, fares are from N180, N270 and N350, depending on the travel class.

Offa passengers have to pay as much as N280,N410 and N540, while those boarding the train from Ilorin pay anything from N350,N520 and N690.

Once the train takes off from Lagos, it passes through Agbado, Ijoko, Abeokuta, Ibadan, Osogbo, Offa, Ilorin, Jebba, Mokwa, Minna, Kaduna and Kano.

Of course, the 3,500 passengers that are moved weekly by trains on the existing two tracks that link the north and south is insignificant, compared to those who travel the country by air and road, but with time, the District Public Relations Officer believes that more coaches and tracks would be commissioned by the FG to meet demand for train travels.

Even though there are no light trains in the corporations stock, the diesel-powered trains cover Lagos to Kano in less than 24 hours, while Ibadan to Ilorin is done in less than four hours. However, Francis confirmed that the major challenge the commission is grappling hard with, apart from few coaches, is that caused by human beings, not even animals.

According to him, “impatient pedestrians are responsible for level crossing accidents nationwide.

“When trains are entering crowded cities, our officials wave commuters and pedestrian to stop for just few minutes till the trains are gone, but that’s when the impatient ones want to beat the bell and, in their anxiety, their vehicles can get stuck on the tracks. You can imagine what a moving train will do to such vehicles”, he said.

Until three weeks ago, only two lines were in full operation, but very recently, the management of NRC, Eastern district, commenced final reconstruction work in all rail lines within the zone.

The Eastern District manager, Mr. Felijoku, stated on Wednesday that, in a bid to revitalise the rail sector in Nigeria, the federal government  had awarded contracts for the rehabilitation work for the Eastern and Western railway lines.

“Most of the track materials required for the eastern line rehabilitation have been imported and delivered to Port Harcourt, to ensure speedy job, the contractor has successfully connected all the missing sections  of the lines between Port Harcout and Enugu”.

He added that the NRC had deployed one locomotive and several open flat wagons from Enugu to Port Harcourtt, just as the Nyaba bridge( 15) in Enugu State, the reconstruction of the heavy washed out at Eziama in Abia State, the reconstruction of Bridge 3 in Port Harcourt have all been completed.

Movement of the imported track materials by rail from Port Harcourt to various locations along the eastern rail corridor where they are needed for rehabilitation work has also begun and items to be lifted in the operation include 13, 500 pieces of 12 metre long UIC 50 rails, 165,000 pieces of steel sleepers, associated fish plates , pandrol clips, as well as bolts and knots among other items.

To meet the rising number of passengers thiugh, the NRC commenced its third weekly service from Lagos-Kano inter city route at Ebute Meta.

At the flag off ceremony, Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje, chairman of NRC, assured that this action would bring succor to commuters in terms of safety, health and cost.

He expects this service would result in an increase in the number of passengers from 3,500 to 5,500 each week. The commission’s boss also assured Francis and other concerned Nigerians that “the corporation would soon take delivery of two sets of Diesel Multiple Units (DMUS) with four 68-seater modern coaches for mass transit as it has become necessary and inevitable”.

During the Ebute Meta flag-off, Engr. Seye Sijuade told Sunday Tribune that the ever-busy western line will only get busier, while social integration and inter-cultural relationships would be more enhanced and small social trading activities would increase within town and villages along the track corridors.




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