There are strong indications that the rehabilitation of the Lagos-Kano narrow gauge rail line by General Electric (GE), the preferred concessionaire, may not take off in June as announced by the Federal Government.
This is due to what a GE source described as preliminary operational precedent that must be adhered to by all parties involved.
While both parties are eager to see the narrow gauge project on track and the return of rail services to the golden age – between 1961 and 1980s, when the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) had 47,000 employees against the current estimated abysmal 9,000 employees on its pay roll, checks by Business Day reveals that before the project will take off fully, there are certain conditional precedent to be sorted out by the Federal Government and GE.
An industry player who does not want his name in print described GE as being fully committed to inject some of the best technology and processes in the course of the rehabilitation work.
Over the decades, the Nigerian decrepit rail system, which was supposed to serve as the artery of any economy, had given rise to man-hour losses due to its bad condition. In a telephone interview, Patrick Adenusi, CEO, Safety Beyond Borders, commended the move between the Federal Government and GE, describing it as one of the best ways to go.
According to Adenusi, connecting the rail to major airports and seaports in the country will make road fatalities reduce, while travellers will have choices beside air travel.
Adenusi expressed worry that Nigeria had lost enormous resources by not investing in the rail network, spending huge sums in building roads that cannot be maintained, and spending money on importing rickety trucks that constitute safety hazards.
He blamed past administrations for their failure to treat the rail system as a multimodal transport framework as obtainable in other parts of the world.
“If you ask transport economists, what is it that have been lost to road network by not having a functional rail system. There are different dimensions to it, such as social condition, economic under development, failure of the road network, inability to maintain locomotives, time wasted, man hours lost and so on,” Adenusi said.
In 2006, President Olusegun Obasanjo made efforts to focus on the rail, but based on a wrong approach, he said, saying, “You don’t look at a rail system by itself, because it is only one piece in the entire transportation jigsaw. Instead, you look at rail as part of what the Americans call a multimodal transport framework.”
Former President Goodluck Jonathan embarked on the ambitious plan of rail rehabilitation when $1.7 billion from the excess crude account was handed over to a Chinese contractor, unmindful of the fact that building infrastructure is not the same as operating it.
Rail is often strategically tied to the sea and airports, and connected to the road as part of the integrated multimodal transport system. No modern airport is built without rail connectivity.
Even those that are without such infrastructure have been redesigned to include rail mass transit right underneath the airport, as there are no major airports that have a rail link over land.
The South Africa government, for instance, built the Gautrain to connect the O.R. Tambo Airport in Johannesburg to Sandton in 15 minutes, when the country won the bid to host the World Cup.
As of the time of filing this report, there are currently 26 airports in Nigeria, but only Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, has a railway line linked to it.
John Ojikutu, member, Aviation Round Table (ART) and chief executive, Centurion Securities, told BusinessDay that in Federal Government plan, there was an intermodal transportation systems developed by the National Transportation Infrastructure Integration Committee 2013, for integration in the national transportation infrastructure.
“The light rail system is part of the plans for mega city of Lagos and Abuja. Abuja has one now and I believe it has been in the plan of the Lagos State government before now. But why it is not being implemented is a question for the state government to answer.
Last April, the Federal Government GE, APM Terminals, and other consortia signed a $45 million agreement to carry out rehabilitation of the country’s railway narrow-gauge rail line. The interim phase of the Lagos-Kano narrow-gauge railway concession contract includes light remedial civil and track repair works on the narrow gauge rail line.
MIKE OCHONMA & IFEOMA OKEKE
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