“TODAY, we are telling the whole universe that our railway that was comatose is fully back…the sleeping giant is awake,” said an elated Dr Bamanga Tukur at the launch of Gombe-Kafanchan-Port Harcourt rail line in Gombe on Jan. 31.
Tukur, who is the Chairman of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), was not the only one who expressed joy at the development, as thousands of people, who witnessed the re-introduction of train services in the area, also shared similar sentiments.
The epoch-making event also witnessed the inauguration of the Gombe-Kafanchan-Kaduna inter-city train services by Vice President Namadi Sambo, on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan.
A month earlier, Dec. 23, 2014 to be specific, Sambo also launched the Enugu-Port Harcourt train service. That, in essence, means that the Eastern rail corridor is virtually ready, except for the Gombe-Maiduguri axis.
Mr Adeseyi Sijuwade, the Managing Director of the NRC, said that the inauguration of the project followed “the completion of the rehabilitation of additional 678km of the line from Makurdi to Gombe, with a 179km branch line from Kafanchan to Kaduna”.
In Nigeria, actual railway construction started in 1898 with a 32-km line of 1067mm gauge from Iddo (Lagos State) to Ota (Ogun State), which was further extended to Ibadan; covering a total of 193 km in 1901.
“Railway construction continued incrementally in such manners: Ibadan-Jebba (295km), 1907-1911; Kano-Borno (562km), 1909-1915; Jebba-Minna (252km), 1922-1927; Kafanchan-Jos (179km),’’ records of the NRC indicate.
Statistics on passenger and freight traffic show that in 1964, the NRC carried 11,288,000 passengers and 2,960,000 tonnes of freight.
“These figures dropped to 4,342,000 passengers and 1,098,000 tonnes of freight in 1974.
“Thereafter, passenger traffic gradually grew back to 6.7 million in 1978 and reached a peak of 15.5 million in 1984. These declined again to 3.0 million in 1991 and 1.6 million in 2003.
“The same dismal performance was also reflected in the freight traffic fluctuation — from three million tonnes in the 1960s and 1970s to less than 100,000 tonnes by 2000,’’ according to NRC records.
At its peak, the NRC provided employment to more than 45,000 Nigerians. However, by 2003, only a handful of workers remained, as there were virtually no rail services in Nigeria, except for a few skeletal ones.
Observers contend that the problems then facing the railway sector were hydra-headed and included outdated and badly maintained infrastructure — derelict rail tracks and decrepit locomotives and wagons — as well as poor management, among other factors.
They say that the railways, in spite of being the major means of mass transportation of passengers and freight, witnessed a remarkable decline in investment.
The consequences of this development are somewhat frightening, they add.
One of the fallouts is the resultant burden on road transportation, as the country’s roads now witness chaos and carnage on a daily basis, as overloaded articulated vehicles — some carrying combustible products – often fight for the “right of way’’ with commercial vehicles.
Horrifying road accidents are frequently recorded as a result of the chaotic road traffic situation, which has increasing become a source of worry to many concerned citizens.
However, the determination of the President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to tackle the challenges by revamping railway transportation began in 2011.
Under the Jonathan-administration’s transformation agenda, the NRC has regained a lot of lost grounds, while it is aiming to attain and surpass its past glory.
Over 90 per cent of the entire existing narrow gauge lines throughout the country, particularly the major railway lines — the Lagos-Kano line, also known as the Western Line (1,124km), and the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri line, the Eastern Line (1,657km) — are affected in the programme.
The rehabilitation of the Lagos-Kano rail line has been completed and the trains — both passenger and freight train services – have been running since the last quarter of 2012.
According to NRC records, about 3,000 tonnes of Flour Mills’ products are moved from Lagos to Kano monthly, while about 3,000 tonnes of Lafarge Cement are moved from Lagos to Kano on a monthly basis.
Besides, no fewer than 9,000 tonnes of track materials are moved for the rehabilitation of Eastern Corridor monthly, while about 2,000 tonnes of containers of Inland Containers Nigeria Ltd. (ICNL) are transported from Lagos to Kano on a monthly basis.
Rail freight services received a boost with the completion of the Apapa Port Complex’s railway double-track network of 1.5km each. Freight trains can now move in and out of the port complex with all sorts of goods.
However, the newly rehabilitated Port Harcourt-Maiduguri line, including the branch line from Kafanchan-Kaduna, stops at Gombe, for now. This is to give room for the government to stamp out the insurgent activities of the Boko Haram group in the Maiduguri so as to facilitate track repairs.
According to available records, the NRC went a step further by procuring 25 2500HP locomotives from GE Transportation Systems in the U.S., four 1800HP locomotives from CNR of China, 40 pressurised tank wagons, two 100-tonne telescopic cranes and three wheel machines.
The corporation also acquired 11 68-seater air-conditioned coaches, two sets of diesel multiple units (DMUs), two 1800HP CNR locomotives, two power cars, two 18-seater rail buses, 18 rail cars with trolleys for track maintenance, two 3500HP locomotives with in-built power cars and five air-conditioned coaches for standard gauge tracks.
“Similarly, there has been the modification of Microwave Communication Equipment for Narrow Gauge with 72 Repeater Sites nationwide, so as to provide a backbone for the Automated Train Warranty (ATW) Signalling System, Intercom Communication within the railway network and to enhance passenger information, CCTV and Internet Services,” the NRC said in a publication.
It is pertinent to note that the focus of ongoing rehabilitation works is on the old narrow gauge rail tracks but, in line with modern trends, however, all new the tracks being laid, including the completed Abuja-Kaduna line, are the standard gauge type.
The transformation of rail transportation has produced some remarkable feats, as the NRC recently announced that the number of
train passengers has increased from 4,155,988 in 2012 to 4,328,789 in 2013 and to over 5,000,000 in 2014.
“In isolated cases, mass-transit trains make about 18 trips from Iddo (Lagos State) to Ijoko (Ogun State) and convey over 20,000 passengers daily in Lagos. The Kaduna intra-city mass-transit trains make 10 trips per day and convey about 10,000 passengers daily,” it said.
The second stage of the revitalisation of the railway involves having standard gauge tracks crisscrossing the Nigerian landscape.
The first in the new series is the Idu (FCT)-Kaduna standard gauge rail line (187.5km), which is now completed and awaiting inauguration.
The construction and rehabilitation of the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri standard gauge rail line, including the signalling and
telecommunication component, have reached advanced stages of completion.
Recently, President Jonathan inaugurated an air-conditioned inter-city passenger train service that would link Makurdi, Benue State, with Port-Harcourt, Rivers State.
Jonathan, who was represented by Vice President Namadi Sambo, said that Nigeria was witnessing a transformation, especially in the transport sector, during his administration.
Sambo said that Jonathan had fulfilled the promises he made to Nigerians with regard to the transformation of the country, particularly the transport sector which was a critical infrastructure.
All the same, Nigerians look forward to a time when the proposed express train, which would make a journey from Lagos to Abuja a four-hour trip, will become a reality.
The East-West Coastal Rail Line that will connect Lagos to Port Harcourt, running adjacent to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Abuja-Lokoja line, among others, are also in the pipeline.
Analysts note that if the outstanding feats made by the Jonathan-administration in the rail sector are sustained, the traffic nuisance constituted by articulated vehicles on the country’s highways will be drastically reduced.
They add that the carnage on the roads will also abate, while travellers will have access to cheaper and safer means of transportation.

Related News