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.
PDP attacks Sagay for criticising Lagos new rail project
The Peoples Democratic Party, Lagos State chapter says the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), lacks moral justification to dictate to Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on which project to embark on for Lagosians.
Sagay had said it made no sense for the governor to embark on the Red Line rail project when the Blue Line started almost 10 years ago had not been completed.
But the PDP, which spoke through its Publicity Secretary Taofik Gani, said Sagay should concentrate on his job as PACAC chairman and leave the governor to decide what is best for his people.
The party accused Sagay, which it claimed had a cordial relationship with Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, of failing to speak out throughout Fashola’s tenure as governor of Lagos State, to account for money spent on the project.
It stated, “Without holding fort for Governor Sanwo-Olu, the truth of the matter is that Prof. Itse Sagay lacks the moral justification to come up at his own will and criticise the government. This is the same person who is supposed to be in charge of a thorough anti-corruption drive but he has clearly abandoned that. He only criticises the government when it is obviously against his interest.
“We know that the Blue Line from the beginning was a complete fraud. It was project that was started with less than N6 billion and now it is over N46 billion. During Fashola’s era, the governor couldn’t account for the funds spent on that project, yet Prof. Sagay kept mute because of his close relationship with Fashola.
“There is no reason why he will now come and condemn the actual needs of Lagosians within the metropolis. We are talking of Oyingbo, Alagbado and other places. Look at the number of people who transit in that particular area.
“We condemn the attempt by Prof. Sagay to want to be the spokesman for Lagosians on what projects to they want or do not want. We condemn his hypocritical stand on this issue. He should come out and condemn President Buhari and others who have put us in this mess.
“We say it loud and clearly that Prof. Sagay is a beneficiary of the APC and government and he can’t be criticising a project that will benefit Lagosians. Why will he say Fashola’s projects must be completed? How many projects did Fashola himself complete and why couldn’t he account for those funds when his successor demanded for it? In a saner clime, Fashola ought to be with EFCC now, not as a minister of the Federal Republic.
“We however demand that Governor Sanwo-Olu must return to make a fair presentation to interested parties. Every kobo must be supervised and accounted for. The monitoring team can have CSO. Why should any government even be scared of ‘ombudsman’ on projects executed with tax and loans?”
Lagos begins construction of another mass transit rail – red line
Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on Thursday performed the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of 37km rail mass transit project called Red Line, expected to move more than one million commuters daily from Agbado to Marina.
According to a statement by the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Gboyega Akosile, the ceremony was held at the proposed site of the Ikeja Train Station and was witnessed by Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, who was represented by the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Dr Bashir Jamoh.
He said the rail corridor would be constructed in three phases, stating, “The first phase (Agbado-Iddo), which will be completed in 24 months, will be sharing track with the Federal Government’s Lagos-Ibadan Railway Modernisation Project up to Ebute-Meta.
“It will have its dedicated track from Ebute-Meta to Oyingbo and reduce travel time from about two and a half hours to just 35 minutes.”
The red line to be fully operational in the last quarter of 2022 is a project of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) which would have eight train stations – from Agbado to Oyingbo, the statement added.
The Red Line is to raise mass transportation capacity in the state, complementing the Blue Line that extends from Okokomaiko to Marina, already at 78 per cent completion.
Governor Sanwo-Olu, who at the event with Deputy Governor Dr Obafemi Hamzat, also handed cheques to 25 property owners affected by the projects right-of-way, described the project as another initiative of his administration to deliver enduring infrastructure for the transport system and make Lagos a competitive mega city.
He said the traffic management and transportation pillar in his government’s development blueprint – Project THEMES – was being implemented with the goal to develop an efficient and sustainable transportation model that would improve mobility, promote economic growth and enhance the living conditions of residents.
He said, “Today’s flag-off of the construction of infrastructure for the standard gauge Red Line is another promise kept and it demonstrates, in practical terms, our commitment to achieve the objectives of traffic management and transportation pillar in our development agenda.
“This is because we recognise the role which an efficient transportation system plays in enhancing people’s quality of life and as a major driver of socio-economic development.
“The state’s strategic transport master plan, which encompasses a number of projects that are germane to achieving our vision for a Greater Lagos, is founded on imperatives that seek to increase transport choices for all users and make the transit system integrated, attractive, convenient, affordable and accessible.
“Since efficient transportation is the backbone of any economy, we are happy to be committing this investment in our transport infrastructure, so that our people can meet their daily targets and aspirations. This all-important transport project we are all gathered to witness today represents a major step in this direction.”
Sanwo-Olu said the implementation of the Red Line was being supported under the Differentiated Cash Reserve Requirement programme – a financing package put in place by the state government through the Central Bank Nigeria.
The governor expressed gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari and the CBN Governor, Dr Godwin Emefiele, for supporting the state in the bid to make the project a reality.
He praised also the bankers who facilitated the funding.
To facilitate smooth operations of the Red Line, Sanwo-Olu said the state government would be constructing ancillary infrastructure, including six overpasses at strategic level crossing points along the rail corridor to eliminate interactions between the rail system, vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
The overpasses will provide grade separated crossings that will enhance safety for the rail system and road users, according to him.
Sanwo-Olu said, “The unique characteristics of the Red Line is its integration with the Ikeja Bus Terminal, Oshodi-Abule Egba Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lane, the future Orange Line, which goes from Ikeja to Agbowa, and the General Aviation Terminal One of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport through a skywalk.
“Another unique feature of the Red Line is that all the stations have elevated concourses with either at grade island or side platforms for easy boarding and alighting of passengers.
“The Red Line also integrates with our bus terminals at Oyingbo, Yaba, Oshodi, Ikeja and Iju, giving modal options to our people in their daily commute, either for business or leisure.”
Commissioner for Transportation, Dr Frederic Oladehinde, described the Red Line as a continuation of the implementation of the state’s strategic transport master plan, which made provision for six standard rail lines, one mono rail, 14 BRT corridors and over 20 waterway routes.
He said the intervention was a deliberate effort of the state government and its development partners to make Lagos livable beyond Year 2032.
Managing Director of LAMATA, Mrs Abimbola Akinajo, said the project was a bold step and commitment of the governor to solving transportation challenges in line with his administration’s development blueprints.
FG, CCECC meet Wednesday on Lagos-Ibadan rail delivery date
The Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, has summoned the management of China Civil Engineering and Construction Corporation, the contractor handling the $1.6 billion Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail project, over delay in completing it ahead of its formal opening.
Daily Trust learnt that the CCECC management would meet with the minister on Wednesday in Abuja to give a specific timeline on when the stations would be completed.
However, Amaechi, who spoke during the inspection of the project from Lagos to Ibadan on Saturday alongside the ministry’s officials and the Nigerian Railway Corporation, said the 157 kilometre long track was ready for inauguration.
He said the ministry was only awaiting the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari to give a specific date he would be available for the inauguration.
Daily Trust reports that several timelines given for the commissioning of the project have elapsed owing largely to disruption precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, CCECC had to reduce the workers on site when some of the staff contracted the deadly COVID-19.
During the inspection, it was observed that the firm was completing work on the stations in Apapa, Ebute-Meta, Agege, Agbado, Kajola, Abeokuta and up to the last station.
At the Mobolaji Johnson Station, which is the biggest in Lagos, iron seats have been fixed at the waiting area but at some stations, only few workers were on the ground.
According to the minister, while there has been some improvement in the train stations, the contractor appeared to have slowed down.
“We are having a conversation with the Presidency. Once the Office of the President gives us the date for commissioning, we are going to communicate the date.
“So once they give us a date, I like to work under pressure, we are commissioning. If they say we are commissioning on Monday, what’s remaining here? What we have left are just minor things which can be done in one to two days,” he said.
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