• 29 February 2024
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By Ajisafe Olayiwola | 29th February 2024

President Bola Tinubu on Thursday commissioned the Lagos Red Line rail.

According to the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, when fully operational, the Lagos Red Line Mass Transit rail system will convey about 500,000 passengers daily.

“The LRMT Red Line rail system, the first phase of which we project will move more than 500,000 passengers daily, stretches over a distance of 27 kilometres from Agbado to Oyingbo, with eight stations at Agbado, Iju, Agege, Ikeja, Oshodi, Mushin, Yaba, and terminates at Oyingbo,” Sanwo-Olu said in a post shared on his X handle early Thursday morning.

The Governor noted that the LMRT Red Line “isn’t just about improving our city’s mobility; it’s about reshaping our urban landscape and setting a new pace for development.

“By connecting critical points across Lagos, we’re opening doors to opportunities, growth, and a sustainable future.”

In this piece, PUNCH Online highlights eight facts to know about the Lagos Mass Transit train:

* The first phase of the LRMT project is expected to facilitate 37 trips daily and move more than 500,000 passengers daily.

* The rail stretches over a distance of 27 kilometres.

* There are eight stations from Agbado in Ogun State to Lagos State – Iju, Agege, Ikeja, Oshodi, Mushin, and Yaba, before terminating at Oyingbo.

* 10 vehicular overpasses and pedestrian bridges, separating train traffic from vehicular and pedestrian flows have been constructed. This will help to ensure the smooth operation of the rail line and safety for commuters.

* The LMRT project is headed by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority under the state’s Ministry of Transportation.

* The project aims to alleviate traffic congestion, minimise road accidents, and improve commuter safety within Lagos.

* The Red Line will utilise a diesel-powered system known as Diesel Multiple Unit which employs on-board diesel engines to propel multiple-unit trains.

* The Red Line project is a substantial investment in Lagos’ urban transportation infrastructure. Initial estimates pegged the cost at $135 million under the Greater Lagos Urban Transportation Project, managed by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA)

Comment:

Much ado about a red line.

The Lagos red line rail mass transit has been commissioned, and the media is agog. Trains will however not run for months. It is the curious Nigerian style of “commissioning”, the date being more reliant on the President’s diary than the completeness of the project.

Much has been and is being said about the red line which is ill informed and inaccurate. Indeed spin seems to be going into overdrive.

Lagos has basked in the apparently seemless take off of the 12km Blue line phase one and there are heightened expectations that the red line take off would be similar.

Unfortunately, the red line may disappoint many, though as Nigerians, we tend to have a low satisfaction threshold. Some reasons why:

1. Compared to the Blue, the red line is a very different kettle of fish with a far more complex operations configuration. The track is shared with the landlord, NRC whom doubles as the regulator, competitor and controller of the signals. This is as against the Blue line which is owned and exclusively operated by LAMATA. There is also the narrow gauge railway(NGR) within the red line corridor which runs parallel and in competition again operated by the landlord and regulator – NRC.

2. There are 5 overpasses (road over rail bridges) that have yet to be built at Idioro, Mushin, Illupeju and in Ogun State. This means the operation of level crossings in the Lagos heartland. These are accident black spots and will be a source of traffic congestion. Trains will also need to slow down significantly at these crossings with implications for line capacity. These bridges are part of the Lagos-Ibadan SGR touted as complete many years ago but evidently not so. Lagos should use its leverage with the FG to get them built ASAP.

3. The red line consists a number of phases and the 3rd is the construction and migration to its own dedicated track. That would be when the red line really comes into its own. For now, we have a stop gap. Given our history, it is hard to say when this 3rd phase would happen. It should cost about $2bn incl land acquisition. The Lagos ports need a good rail connection and clear train paths. The red line obstructs the paths, and we must look forward to a day soon when a serious railway operator runs a decent and consistent freight operation in and out of the ports. This is compounded by the fact that the bulk of port arrivals are destined for the Lagos and Ogun industrial hubs.

4. 37 trains a day with 500,000 passengers is ambitious on a shared 27km track. That’s a train in either direction every 20/30 mins, including stopping at stations.There are line capacity issues that may impact the ambition. There are also a no. of realities. The NRC will be operating Lagos-Ibadan intercity services on the same track. It has ambitions to run an hourly service in either direction. That’s over 20 trains a day!

It would also be operating it’s NGR on the corridor which is running an Iddo-Agbado peak service christened the Lagos mass transit. It is also used to haul containers out of Apapa and has sidings to some key industrial users. A key limiting factor is that the red line station platforms have been built directly on the NRC track alignment and not as sidings. This is a critical safety as well as a line capacity issue because there are no passing loops at stations and NRC trains would be held up. It is also a frightening prospect to have passengers on platforms while non stopping NRC trains wheeze past.

5. The Marina-Agbado corridor has an estimated footfall of 2m trips per day. This suggests that even if the advertised ambition of 500,000 trips a day is realised, a significant amount of commuters will still travel by road and road congestion though eased will not be eradicated. There is also experience that teaches that new transport capacity creates more traffic. So don’t hold your breath.

6. The red line will be the heavier user of the track and would have better intelligence on track conditions and maintenance issues as they arise especially of emergencies. A high level of coordination will be required between the red line operator and the NRC. If NRC history is anything to go by, then I would be worried.
The perceived wisdom in railway track access arrangements, is that the dominant user has control of the track and maintenance. The red line upturns that notion and could have adverse consequences.

7. Not much has been said about the Ikeja-MMI Airport spur. Is it still on the cards or been scrapped? It is an important component of the red line.

All told, a new dawn beckons for urban rail travel and the red line will certainly make a difference. It will not solve problems as is being touted by the spin doctors and it will bring some new challenges but Lagos will be the better for it.

Sanwo must be congratulated for pulling this off. He was also gracious in recognising the contributions of his predecessors in getting to this point. It’s been a 15-year hike with many unsung heroes like Hakeem Sanusi, late Chairman of UDBN. We had planned to name the Marina Station after him and hope Lagos would be gracious to do the needful. The red line has achieved a key milestone, but there is a long way to go yet.

Finally, the role of NRC as rail regulator is conflicting and will create tensions and dissonance. The earlier an independent railway regulator is established, the safer and healthier our railway environment shall be. This brings us back squarely to the unbundling of the NRC as an urgent imperative. We can’t get away from this no matter what.