Life is gradually returning to the rail track leading from Lagos to Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. PAUL ADE-ADELEYE shares his experience
After much talk, some animosity and a burst of determination, the Lagos to Ibadan rail line finally kicked off activities low-key on December 7. Although its maiden trip was mocked for recording generally low patronage, the fault did not lie with the quality of service on offer; neither did it lie, contrary to popular opinion, with the fare of commuting. A return journey to and from Ibadan last week Wednesday, turned out to be exhilarating.
- Train host/hostesses
Everyone has said it, so it is no secret that none of the train stations on the 156km route is complete at the moment. The closest to completion is the Lagos terminal at Ebute Metta in Lagos Mainland. When completed, the terminal has been touted to match international standards. A cursory glance at the level of work ongoing at the station seems to point to the absence of any fib on the part of those who believe that the new terminal will be of high quality. Awaiting the comfort of the new terminal, however, Lagos District Manager of the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), Jerry Oche, took it upon himself to ensure that travellers were well treated.
Inviting the first five travellers to arrive at the Lagos Station to the conference room of the old terminal last Wednesday, the manager fielded questions and even served drinks, apologising that the waiting area and ticketing booth were not ready. One traveller wondered aloud why there was little publicity concerning how the train would work, especially as most travellers simply had to grope their way through the procedure leading up to boarding the train. Mr Oche, an engineer, however, revealed that the absence of fanfare and advertorial that would serve as official publicity for the commencement of the train service was deliberate.
Officially, the train service has not been commissioned. This will be done by President Buhari sometime in January by which time it is hoped the project would have been completed. Meanwhile, the bit-part launching of the train service means that with current operations, the train can sit as many as 580 people. At the moment, especially since the station is not completely ready and there is no secure waiting area, it may be difficult to manage such a number. Oche is reluctant to kick-start operations at full capacity when the facilities to manage such numbers are not yet completely available. For now, he appears content to let the train service announce itself, a strategy that appears to be yielding dividends.
The district manager is additionally confident that this can be a successful strategy because the train service had conducted a free trial from Iju to Ibadan and only the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the service. When the trial started, they recorded low turnout but soon the numbers skyrocketed and maximum patronage was recorded at every journey.
The reporter arrived at the train station with the intent of travelling humbly. Humility must be understood to mean economy class. However, when the booking clerk would ask what class of commuting the reporter wanted, a strange whim caused the reporter to opt for first class.
- The passage
The first-class coach, which seats 24 passengers, costs N6,000; the business class coach, which seats 56 passengers, costs N5,000; while the economy coaches cost N3,000 for the 68-seater coach and N2, 000 for the 88-seater coach.
Luxury is an addictive spirit, so let it suffice to say that the return journey was first class also. Whatever the financial effects of this deluxe treatment of self, the devil may care but the reporter does not. To purchase a train ticket, the prospective commuter must present some form of identification – no doubt for security purposes.
Despite the incompleteness of the rail station, the manager was keen on security. He mandated that only travellers were to be on the ramp leading up to the train during boarding hours. There are also contracted security personnel belonging to several paramilitary bodies who embark on every train ride for the safety of the passengers. No staffer without business on the train was to be in the vicinity. At the entrance of the train, courteous staff (a welcome improvement in Nigeria) greeted the passengers, and the train not to be outdone, also breathed a cheeky draught of cold air. The trip, this implied, would be fully air-conditioned. The train was not complaining, the employees were not, and the passengers certainly were not. That consensus being reached, the reporter did not begrudge the train hostess leading him to the first class session – he paid for it anyway. There were sinks on the train, restrooms and a mini-bar from which nourishment was to be served for the pleasure of travellers.
Cross-checking this array of amenities with a contact in the United Kingdom confirmed that the regular metro trains do not offer this luxury. Only the long-distance trains, which operate between counties, do. While the economy and business class carriages looked comfortable enough, the reporter cannot say much for them, having only passed through. The first-class coach, however, was what it promised. The seats had trays, which could be summoned or neatly tucked away according to the traveller’s preference. The seats could also be rotated a full 360 degrees should the traveller not enjoy the sensation of being in reverse as the train rolls along. Trains, you see, hardly turn. There are engines at both ends, which propel the train depending on the train’s direction, and so the traveller is either travelling backward or forward.
- Interior of the First Class coach
At exactly 4 pm, the train departed the station. The passengers had been warned that the trip would last 2:41 hours. There are stations in Agege, Alagbado, Kajola, Abeokuta, Papalanto, Olodo, Omi Adio and finally Moniya, Ibadan, but for now, only the Abeokuta station is a stopping station. The stop was for only five minutes, and, as promised, at exactly 6:41, the train rolled into the Ibadan station. Similarly, the next morning, the train departed Ibadan by exactly 8 am and was in Ebute Metta at exactly 10:41 am. At maximum speed, the train is expected to eat up the distance at the rate of 150km/hr. The precision was encouraging for it meant a fellow could work his schedule around the train schedule. Mr Oche noted that when the train service became fully operational, it could make as many as 16 trips daily with a train departing and arriving every other hour. The journey could have been shorter, but people trading on the rail lines have forced the train to virtually crawl through Lagos, picking up speed from Alagbado station.
For the current prices, the Lagos-Ibadan rail service is worth the expenditure. As noted by many analysts, the advantages floor whatever financial inconvenience the traveller may experience. For N2,500, the commuter who has chosen economy class will get more than double the comfort that a traveller by road would hope to enjoy in public transport. The traveller again enjoys additional guarantee that they will arrive at their destination in one piece and at a pre-arranged time. The business class traveller, for only N5,000, will enjoy more exclusivity and can make use of a laptop or other such device as may be reasonably sized for their work. It is presumed that the first-class passenger has called congress in his mind and deliberated on what premium can be placed on comfort and luxury in travelling. Honeymooners or those who do not like crowded spaces are advised to travel first class. It offers comforts that even luxurious private vehicles struggle to match.
The fear, as with many other things in Nigeria, is the maintenance culture. It was lack of proper maintenance and farsightedness that led to the decline of the railway system which the British bequeathed. The NRC must be careful not to rest on its oars but seek new and better ways to innovate rail travel, for only by so doing can the current pace be sustained and evenly matched. The District Manager predicts that by February, the stations will be completed. It is difficult to see how that is possible.
Train passengers rise by over 400% in one year, says NBS report
Nigeria has recorded an increase of over 400 per cent in train passengers within a space of one year, a new report by the National Bureau of Statistics has shown.
It also indicated that the Nigerian Railway Corporation generated N2.1 billion as revenue from passengers and cargo traffic in the first half of this year.
Apart from the biting economic lockdown imposed last year to curtail the spread of COVID-19, which adversely affected train service, the commencement of the new Lagos-Ibadan train service apart its inauguration in June this year and the reinvigorated Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge rail line must are seen to have contributed to the NRC’s performance.
The report, titled, ‘Rail Transportation Data Q2’ stated that 565,385 passengers travelled by the rail system in the second quarter of 2021 against 108,238 passengers recorded in the second quarter of 2020 and 424,460 in Q1 2021.
This represents a 422.35 per cent growth year-on-year and 33.20 per cent quarter-on-quarter.
The report also specifically stated that the NRC generated N1.08 billion from passengers in the second quarter of 2021 against N892.47 million in Q1 2021.
Goods or cargo traffic in Q2 2021 fetched N71.56 million against N26.19 million in Q1 2021, while income from other receipts stood at N41 million in the last six months.
A further analysis of the report shows that the corporation recorded its highest revenue from passengers in Q2 2021 with N1.08 billion, while the lowest revenue generation from passengers was recorded in the second quarter of 2020 (Q2 2020), with N320.34 million.
The report showed from all categories that the year 2020 (particularly Q2 2020) suffered the most losses and turnout of passengers due to the COVID-19 lockdown imposed by the Federal Government to curtail the spread of the virus across Nigeria.
In June, the NBS had said the NRC generated N5.79 billion as revenue from passengers and cargo between 2019 and the first quarter of 2021 (Q1 2021).
NRC builds N320m hotel for Lagos-Ibadan train passengers
The Nigerian Railway Corporation has constructed a N320m hotel at its Ebute-Meta station in Lagos.
The Railway Guest House is said to have 40 rooms with a lot of facilities to make travellers’ stopover there a pleasant and memorable stay.
Specifically, the hotel is equipped with a swimming pool, restaurant and meeting hall, among other facilities.
Speaking at the opening on Wednesday, Timothy Zalanga, Managing Director of Railway Property, said the project marked the beginning of a new business strategy for the NRC, focusing on property development rather than leasing of lands.
“This project shows that with the focus of the present regime on Railway Development, many more can be achieved in the overall interest of the general public,” he said.
Zalanga said 60 per cent of the construction cost was funded from replacement costs of some of the NRC structures that were demolished to pave way for the new Lagos – Ibadan standard gauge line to get into Apapa port.
The remaining 40 per cent was funded by Railways Property.
NRC Managing Director, Fidet Okhiria, said that the guest house would be managed by hospitality and lifestyle company, Ojez Group, following a successful bidding process involving over 30 entities.
Managing Director of Ojez Group, Joseph Odobeatu,
said security within the hotel would be provided by the Nigerian police railway command, private security and an internal security team.
Excitement as NRC holds train tour for senior citizens
Many elderly people were excited last week when the Nigerian Railway Corporation organised a special train ride for senior citizens to keep them fit and improve their lives.
They had the exciting fanfare in the business class of the just inaugurated standard gauge Lagos-Ibadan train and it was mainly attended by retired senior staff of the NRC on Thursday
Managing Director of the NRC, Fidet Okhiria, said this during a two-day bi-monthly management and senior staff meeting held at the corporation’s corporate headquarters, Ebute-Metta, Lagos.
He said the train tour was held in conjunction with the Nigeria Senior Citizen Centre (NSCC).
Okhiria spoke on the need for senior and management staff to network for the progress of the system, stressing that the Federal Government’s efforts towards transforming the entire railway system, through the modernisation project, must be sustained by the workers.
The NRC boss urged workers to be more proactive in the discharge of their official responsibilities.
He advised them to brace for the challenges of the modern rail transport industry.
One of the guests at the special train ride, pioneer Managing Director of the NRC, Nathaniel Okoro, said it was heartwarming to witness the transformation of the Nigerian railway and commended the Federal Government for the progress made in the standard gauge rail.
He said, “I am happy to see the success of the standard gauge railway project because I was invited by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2002 to draw a 25-year master plan for the development of standard gauge railway line in Nigeria.
“The report was submitted to Obasanjo in 2002 and after he left government, the report gathered dust. But we thank God that President Buhari-led administration resuscitated and implemented the project.”
Okoro, who just turned 90, advised his fellow senior citizens on need “to celebrate ourselves because we have made our contributions to the development of this country. I retired on a salary of N3,500 per month and that was the highest salary then.”
He also said, “I urge Nigerians to learn and understand the history of Nigeria to enable them to appreciate the development that has taken place from the past so they can relate it to the present.
“I am persuaded that life is a wave, emotions build up eventually, reach a peak; and drift away. Worries, anxiety and fear come and go in a similar way. They don’t last forever even if they feel like they will,”
Director-General of the NSCC, Dr Emem Omokaro, while addressing the elderly citizens, said the centre was established to promote a fundamental positive change in perception, attitude and paradigm about aging and old age.
According to her, the centre promotes economic development opportunities in investing in enhanced capacities of senior citizens for the benefit of all and a cohesive community.
“The centre was set up principally to identify the needs of senior citizens and to cater for them in varied domains such as health and well-being, income, security, training and education, capacity enhancement, counselling and sports,” she said.
Omokaro said the centre would work diligently to ensure that a day is set aside in Nigeria to celebrate senior citizens.
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