New line linking Onitsha-Benin-Lagos coming
The naira value of contracts awarded by the ministry for the rehabilitation of the railway amount to N1.616 trillion naira and is billed to cover rail lines of 1,796km. This will also include other infrastructure needed to make the sector function and have trains complement the road transport networks of the nation. They include four major contracts awarded the CCECC and Julius Berger, covering rail line stretches between the North and South of the nation.
“The state of the rail sector was embarrassing when we took over the office. But I can state that we came with a clear mind and mandate on how to prosecute the President Goodluck Jonathan’s transformation agenda in the sector.
We met a national rail transport sector dilapidated, decrepit and largely dismembered following decades of abandonment,” he noted.
Through the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) and with the administration’s determination to revive and modernize the railway system in line with the 25-year strategic vision to bring back the railways to remove the pressure on roads, the rail lines are getting renewed attention, which was unprecedented since the 1980s.
Nigerian roads have been bearing more than its fair share of load and uses, hence the aggravated wear and tear.
Recently, the transport minister announced that appreciable efforts are on to link the country’s ports with rail lines, while the remodeling of some of the railway stations is on. That was at the ministerial press briefing in Abuja. He stressed that feasibility studies had been completed on the proposed East- West Railway, which will link Lagos-Benin-Onitsha-Owerri and Aba with a branch line to Enugu and Abakaliki.
Umar has not stopped assuring that the “modernization scheme of the railway system is ongoing. The construction of the Lagos-Ibadan 180km standard guage line begins at a cost of $1.53 billion. The contract was awarded to CCECC Nig. Ltd. The Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri standard guage line covering 274km has been awarded to Julius Berger at a cost of N33.1 billion. Also, the Lagos-Kano modernization rail project has been awarded to CCECC Nig. Ltd. at a cost of $8.3 billion covering 1,342.50km, out of which $257.4 million has been paid by the federal government,” he disclosed.
But compared to costs incurred vis-avis work done up till 2007, the current progress in the sector is costing the nation less financial pains.
No matter the high hopes and intention to handle the turnaround, he fears for the dearth of fund to handle the projects and complete them all at the same time. For instance, the allocation of N52,331,974,638 to the ministry in the 2013 budget is insignificant. It is lower than last year’s N54 billion, which was even said to be inadequate to cater for the entire ministry’s capital projects.”
But all these down sides notwithstanding, Umar keeps hope alive on what the nation should expect from the railways.
The minister also assured that 366 coaches and wagons had been refurbished, while four new locomotives were expected to arrive in the country next month. Besides, the minister said that six 68-seater modern air-conditioned coaches would arrive in the country in December 2013.
“An order had been placed for two sets of Diesel Multiple Units, each with a capacity of 540 passengers, and the ministry had also procured 20 oil tank wagons in January 2012.”
Other railway projects Umar mentioned include the rehabilitation of the Lagos-Kano rail line, the ongoing rehabilitation of most of the narrow gauge lines, the rehabilitation of the rail line from Ebute-Metta Junction to Apapa Local station in Lagos and the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line. These are now nearing completion.
The minister said that “no fewer than nine major railway stations would be remodeled to create modern commercial outlets under a public-private partnership arrangement. They will include the Iddo Terminus and Ebute-Metta Junction Station in Lagos, the llorin Station, the Kaduna Junction Station, the Kano Station, the Port Harcourt Station, the Enugu Station, the Jos Station and the Gombe Station.
“The process for the engagement of private-sector partners for the stations’ reconstruction will soon commence. A transaction adviser is to be appointed, after which investors will be invited to bid for the concessioning of railways operations.”
During a recent media tour of the emerging rail sector under the minister, it was observed that achievements in the “Bring Back the Railway” resolve so far recorded in the last two years, have been impressive. This, he said would benefit even the common man in using the rail facilities which come cheaper and safer; especially too that since its coming back, the Nigerian rail transport has not witnessed any bad incident.
For instance, the narrow gauge lines rehabilitation is over 90 per cent completed. The main Western line, Lagos – Kano, has got not less than 1,124km of it, completed and passenger services and haulage of goods along the line flagged off in December, 2012. The Eastern line that runs from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri has got not less than 1,657km of it, expected to be completed before the end of 2013. That was a promise the minister, said, his ministry should be held to. He said, the 2013 completion date is realistic, given the pace of work and delivery of equipment and materials already made.
Of note is the economic fact that the railways, properly linked to the ports will help to evacuate imported goods to where they are required. In the area of ports, the administration revealed that the contract for the rehabilitation of Apapa Port railway network and signal works, which is made up of double track of 1.5km each was executed by NPA in the sum of N860,657,797.23 and completed in November, 2012. ‘The nation was told that the rehabilitation of the mainline from Ebute Meta Junction to Apapa Local Station by NRC is completed; while the sidings are in the process of being rehabilitated.
Already, the revival witnessed in the sector is infusing new life into the transport sector and thus reducing the intense pressure on the highways.
Already the corporation has begun the haulage of cement from Ewekoro in Ogun State to Osogbo and Ilorin, as a trip by train could take out as many as 25 trailers from the road.
In the face of the high challenges facing the management of NRC and the supervising ministry, the minister has had to work with lesser fund arising from lower budgetary provisions and ever much lower approvals/releases.
But there are skeptics who do not believe that the ministry is being modest in costing its contracts especially in consultancy services. They base their takes on a statement by the former Auditor General of the country, Robert Ejenavi, when he told a Senate Committee on Transport public hearing June 2008 that the nation spent over $826.6 million without results on railway contracts between 1999 and 2007.