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2010: Year of the speed train

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By Adeyinka Aderibigbe

The transportation sector operated for most part of the year below optimal capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the fear of resurgence and a second wave of the pandemic, the launch of Lot II, known as the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge, came with bright prospects.

From its take-off in October 2017, the pace of work had been appreciative. Given that the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri line, which was the nation’s first standard gauge, was delivered after 35 years, and the second, from Abuja to Kaduna, took 12 years, the best of cynics had written the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge off, as another white Elephant project by the Buhari administration.

 

The take-off of commercial activity was to clear the fog that the standard gauge was not a phantom project. Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi had been at the vanguard of changing the nation’s transportation narrative. By December, the only feature remaining on the project was the delivery of the stations.

 

Meanwhile, criticism also seems to be changing. The issue is no longer whether the government can deliver on the project, the criticism has shifted to the fares, which many considered “too unfriendly to the masses’’.

 

Amaechi, earlier in the month, had announced a range of fare ranging from N3000, economy class, to N5,000, business class and N6,000, first class. However, when the service eventually took-off, the government slashed the economy class to N2500. Amaechi has foreclosed a further review of the fares.

 

Buttressing the minister’s position, the Nigerian Railway Corporation’s Managing Director Fidet Okhiria said the service was affordable to many. According to him, the service would continue to run.

He said more coaches would be deployed to the train tracks as passenger volume increases.

“Two luxury coaches would be put on the tracks, while the frequency will increase to two, as soon as the passenger traffic increases,” Okhiria said.

Okhiria said the frequency of trips would also affect the movement timetable, which runs one return leg from Ibadan to Lagos. The train leaves Ibadan 8am and departs Lagos back to Ibadan at 4pm.

He said 15 Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) locomotives and 25 wagon locomotives had been ordered, while wagons and coaches of various categories had been ordered by the Federal Government to be deployed on the route once it begins commercial operations.

The rail is also seen as the game changer in the maritime sector. The government sees rail as the solution to the traffic gridlock at Apapa and by extension, Lagos. Government has already given a marching order to the APMT to work its operations round the contractor in bringing the tracks into the port area for seamless haulage operations.

An active train system in the ports would expand the port’s potential as the cash cow of the nation’s economy.

Not only has the subsector domesticated the Executive Order 5, which focuses on the ease of doing business at the ports, it is preparing all agencies of government in the sector to gear up and police the nation’s waterways and national assets in order to deliver more funds to the coffers.

Despite the huge funding gaps, there has also been so much going on, on the inland waterways. One of beautiful interventions was the provision of water ambulances to prevent deaths in the event of accidents on the waterways.

The National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) embarked on aggressive enlightenment to drive home safety tips and voluntary compliance with waterways regulations by all operators.

But perhaps, more significant was the readiness of NIWA to begin the operation of its strategic inland ports, such as the Baro River Port in Niger State, the flagship port in the North, which despite the huge investments, were rendered unusable by lack of motorable roads to connect the inland port.

NIWA also improved its partnership with other states with effectiveness as the regulator on the waterways.

State of roads

Nigeria has 108,000 km of surfaced roads as at 1990. It is home to the largest road network in West Africa and second largest, south of the Sahara.

Since independence, the country has been battling dilapidated and decaying road infrastructure. The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, for instance remains jaded, with the contractor announcing a new date of 2022 as completion date for the repair works on this critical road.

The government approved about N134 billion in 2018 to accommodate more features on some sections of this critical road.

The repairs started in 2000.  At the last count over 150 highways, 66 interstate roads and 45 bridges scattered across 34 states, are in various stages of completion.

Minister of Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola had caused a stir last year, when he said the 2020 allocation could not even pay outstanding debts owed contractors and canvassed tolling some critical roads.

Southeast and Southsouth remained zones with the worst road profile, according to statistics  by the FMWH. The story has hardly changed as the year winds down.

Fashola believes the administration is doing so much with much less, underscoring the regime’s penchant for prudence in the public sector.

But Nigerians seem not to see yet the gains of such frugal spending on critical roads.

Enabling laws

Despite its efforts, the Eighth Assembly could not deliver on any of the six bills that could have strengthened the transportation industry.

The Ninth Assembly is yet to begin work on all the bills for the sector. One of such bills was the bill seeking to repeal the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) for a Federal Roads Authority, which passed second reading at the Eighth Senate.

Other such bills still hanging are: the Nigerian Railway Corporation (Act 1955) Amendment Bill, the Nigeria Transportation Commission Bill, which seeks to establish a regulator for the transportation sector, the Nigerian Shippers Council Amendment Bill, and the Nigeria Ports Authority Amendment Bill.

– The Nation

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Railway

Relocation of infrastructure delays final Apapa port railway link – Minister

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The third and final track to link Apapa port to the new Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail line is currently being delayed due to issues relating to removal of some port facilities along the path.

Specifically, cracks along the quay apron of the Lagos Port Complex and a scanning machine at APM Terminals have been identified as major encumbrances.

Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, disclosed this on Monday after inspecting the cracks and the scanning machine.

He, however, said a decision would be taken on how to address the problem at a meeting with experts later.

He said, “All we came to do today is to see how we will fix the track to the quays. We have problems with some port infrastructure to be removed or not to be removed.

“Luckily, the Customs has given us the go-ahead to remove them but their removal has proved a bit difficult. So, we are going to the office now to discuss with experts on how to remove this infrastructure.

“The second issue is that there are some cracks at the quays apron where we want to lay the track. We have come today to inspect those cracks and we will decide after meeting with experts.”

On when the port will be finally connected to the rail, Amaechi said, “I cannot give a timeline to that now because addressing these issues with port infrastructure is a bit technical. Until the engineers come up with a proper solution and time-based solution, that is when we can speak on when we will connect the port to the rail. I am not an engineer; I’m just the head of the ministry in charge.

“There are three tracks that enter the port, but we have issues with one of the rail tracks that has to pass through where the scanner is located. So, we are going to have a meeting to know how to go ahead with this. I won’t be making decisions at the meeting because I am just a policy implementer. I will allow the experts to come up with solutions that will guide our judgement in getting across this hurdle.

“We are working hard to find solutions; but we need expert advice to go ahead because these things are technical. We cannot commission if we don’t find a solution to these issues.”

Managing Director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Fidet Okhiria, an engineer, explained that it is only when the tracks get to the seaside that issues with multiple handling of cargoes could be eradicated.

He said, “The essence of the rail is to move freight. So, we have to get to the port seaside meaningfully, not just getting to the port. This has to happen so that multiple handling of cargoes will be eradicated. Presently, trucks are paid to bring cargoes to the rail because the tracks have not reached the seaside inside the container terminal.

“For now, the rail has reached the ENL Terminal which is a bulk cargo terminal. It is these encumbrances at the container terminal that are delaying the track from getting to the APM Terminals. As the minister has said, we are going for a meeting now to see how we can get across that hurdle.”

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PDP attacks Sagay for criticising Lagos new rail project

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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?”

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Lagos begins construction of another mass transit rail – red line

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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.

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