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Lagos to Ibadan rail: Proof of pudding is in the eating

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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.

Facilities

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.

Verdict

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.

-The Nation

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Railway

FG okays N718m contracts to secure Abuja rail tracks, stations

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The Federal Executive Council on Wednesday approved N718.19 million contracts to two security outfits to protect the 45-kilometre Abuja rail tracks and stations.

Minister of the FCT, Mohammed Bello, said this while speaking with journalists at the end of the FEC meeting.

In March, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) suspended its Abuja-Kaduna train operations after some gunmen planted explosives on the rail track and attacked passengers.

Bello said the security services are majorly to protect key infrastructures on the rail tracks, the signalling and communication equipment as well as the electrical system.

He added that the security agencies are Messers Al-Ahali Security Guards Limited and Messers Seaguard Security and Protective Company Limited.

“I presented a memo at the Federal Executive Council meeting of today, and the council approved a contract for the provision of security services for the Abuja Light Rail Mass Transit System,” he said.

“These companies are going to provide security to the entire 45 kilometres of track including 12 stations.

“Al-Ahali security guard Limited is going to secure 27.4 kilometres of the track, covering eight stations at the cost of N407,214,000 over two years, while Seaguard Securities and Protective Company Limited are going to secure 18 kilometres of the rail tracks including four railway stations and that is at a cost of N310,979,250.”

 

 

 

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Minister gives two conditions to restart Abuja-Kaduna train service

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Minister of Transportation, Muazu Sambo, says the Federal Government cannot restart the Abuja-Kaduna train services now because it will be insensitive to the plight of families whose loved ones are still in captivity.

He said this Wednesday while fielding questions from State House reporters at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

He said two core matters remained at the heart of the delay in the resumption of Abuja-Kaduna train services suspended after the March 2022 attack.

The minister said these included families traumatized over their members still in captivity of terrorists and the need to have surveillance facilities to monitor the tracks.

He said government was looking at the best options in terms of the surveillance including concessioning it in a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement.

Asked about definite timelines to execute the initiative, Sambo said: “If I give a timeline, I’ll be lying to you. It will be insensitive to restart the service if some families weep day and night over their members still in the bush.”

The minister said government was mindful of cost involved but should be able to report definite progress in about a month.

He announced that FEC approved a contract for the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) worth about N1.49 billion for the repair of cranes.

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Chinese contractor lays final track beam of Lagos blue rail

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  • New rail line may extend to Agbara, Ogun State

The laying of the last track beam (T-beam) of a 27-kilometre Lagos Blue Rail Mass Transit commenced on Wednesday with a promise to deliver the landmark project in December this year as scheduled.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu flagged off the engineering procedure at the site of the Marina station of the rail project.

A statement by the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Gboyega Akosile, said, “with the laying of the final T-Beam, all difficult civil works standing in the way of the Lagos Blue Rail Line, which started in 2012, have been overcome.

“The contractor – China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) – will now go ahead to set the rail tracks along the alignment and move the project to completion.”

It said Governor Sanwo-Olu got the commitment of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) and the contractor to the December deadline for the Blue Line project’s completion.

Lagos Government will be delivering two rail mass transit projects within the first term of the Sanwo-Olu administration. The Blue Line traversing between Mile 2 and Marina will be operated on Electric Motor Unit (EMU); while the 37-kilometre Red Line, from Agbado to Ebute Metta, will operate on Automotive Gas Oil (AGO).

Speaking at the launch of the last T-Beam on the Blue Line, Sanwo-Olu said the achievement signposted his administration’s commitment to bringing succour to Lagosians and give them choices in mass transportation.

The governor said the rail projects represented the audacity of his administration’s vision to deliver a robust integrated transit system as encapsulated in the Traffic Management and Transportation pillar of his government’s T.H.E.M.E.S. development agenda.

He said, “Today’s final T-beam launch indicates that we are gradually inching to the completion of the civil infrastructure for the first phase of the Blue Line traversing from Mile 2 to Marina. The engineering work today completes a total of 1,967 piles foundation, while we have also completed three 306 platforms, 310 piers, 267 cover beams and erection of 984 T-beams.

“We are not just making promises; people are beginning to see for themselves that all the milestones and the difficult tasks we are meant to achieve to ensure operation of the Blue Line are being achieved. The Marina Station, which is the iconic terminal for the Blue Line, will be completed within two-and-half months. I am restating here that we will formally complete this Blue Line before December 31, 2022.”

The governor said the two sets of EMU coaches already procured for the Blue Line operations would arrive in Lagos from China before the end of October. He said the rail line would be test run immediately after completion, while passenger movement would start within the first quarter of 2023.

Sanwo-Olu said the construction of the second phase of the Blue Line project would commence after the start of operation, which would extend the rail project from Mile 2 to Okokomaiko.

He said Blue Line stations would be built at Festac, Alakija, Trade Fair, Volkswagen, LASU and Okokomaiko.

The governor disclosed that talks were being held with the Ogun State Government for possible extension of the rail line to Agbara.

He said, “The second phase of the Blue Line project will be an easy infrastructure to develop because the marked alignment for stations and tracks are largely at grid level. While we are at this, the Red Line is also on the way. This is a start-and-end project for our administration, with about seven stations concurrently being built. This will redefine mass transportation in Lagos.

“To our citizens, I say the Blue Line is for real and you will ride on it in no distant future. For the Doubting Thomases and people that do not like our face, their eyes cannot disbelieve in the infrastructure we are bequeathing to the citizens of our State. They cannot disbelieve in our bold effort and commitment to improve mobility and deliver transport infrastructure that brings ease to our people.”

LAMATA Managing Director, Abimbola Akinajo, an engineer, said the first 13-kilometre stretch of the Blue Line construction was divided into four phases to enable the government to fund the project from its internally generated revenue.

To get to the current status, she said the construction work experienced disturbances and delays in the relocation of submarine cables, submarine natural gas pipelines, and removal of underground shipwrecks.

“Just as we are laying the final T-beam for the rail tracks, we are also currently retrofitting the train stations at Mile 2, Alaba, Iganmu and National Theatre with light in readiness for passenger operation in the first quarter of 2023,” Akinajo said.

CCECC Chairman, Mr Liu Wei Min, described the event as the most significant level of the project.

He said, “We express our sincere gratitude to the present administration under the leadership of Mr Sanwo-Olu in reaching this milestone.

“We will continue to work to meet the ultimate target in delivering the entire project with high standards and quality.”

The T-beam laying event was also attended by Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in Lagos, Mr Chu Mao ming.

 

 

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