BY ROWLAND ATAGUBA | Thursday May 7, 2015

In 1987, CANAC of Canada were commissioned by the World Bank to provide professional and technical assistance in the rehabilitation of NRC locomotives.

In 1989, Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia was appointed Sole Administrator of the NRC by the Babangida government. He was in the role until 1992 and managed to arrest the drift in the NRC’s fortunes momentarily.

In 1990, CANAC was commissioned by the Babangida government to undertake a needs analysis and to develop an implementation programme for management information systems required by the NRC.

In 1991, TEAM was commissioned by the Babangida government to design a narrow gauge rail extension from Kaura Namoda to Sokoto and to link the Sokoto Cement factory. Nothing further has been heard of this project.

In 1991, TEAM was again commissioned by the Babangida government to design a narrow gauge rail extension from Kano to Katsina and to link the Katsina Steel Rolling mills. Nothing further has been heard of this project.

In 1995, the Abacha government contracted the Chinese CCECC to rehabilitate the railway system for about $550m. Under this initiative, some of the tight curves on the track were eased and lengths ballasted. However, sections of the track could not be re-laid with new rails as the track materials and fixings which were to be supplied by NRC did not materialise as due. Why the NRC elected to supply materials to a contractor still niggles. New locomotives, passenger coaches and freight wagons were however supplied by the CCECC and the signalling system was partially operational.

Notwithstanding the marginal improvements as a result of the Chinese intervention under Abacha, the NRC’s performance continued in a downward spiral. By the time Obasanjo came into office, traffic volumes had sunk to below 50,000 tons of freight and about 3 million passengers per annum compared to a historical 3m tons of freight and 15m passengers per annum. The NRC’s share of the transport market was a disappointing 1%.

President Obasanjo came along in 1999, and promptly terminated the Abacha contract after over $400m had been expended on it but by 2006 had awarded another contract to the same Chinese company to build a new and modern rail track from Lagos to Kano for $8.3bn which was to be completed in 4 years. 9 years on, it is not quite 20% complete yet.

In 1999, Julius Berger commenced the construction of a 30 km approx. standard gauge rail line to link Eleme, Port Harcourt to Onne deep-sea port with branches to link the Eleme Petrochemicals plant and the NAFCON fertilizer complex as well as the Port Harcourt refinery. TEAM was the consultant for this project. The contractor abandoned site owing to security challenges with Niger Delta militancy and has not returned.

In 2000, TEAM was commissioned by the Obasanjo government to carry out a study for the development of the railway system through the identification of new priority transportation corridors. The study was to provide a priority list of  railway lines to be constructed or rehabilitated.

In 2001, TEAM was commissioned to carry out a basis of design (scoping) study for 8 new lines being Lagos-Abuja, Abuja-Kaduna, Abuja-Minna, East-West corridor (i.e. Lagos-Enugu), Eganyi-Baro, Ajaokuta-Baro, Kano-Katsina and Kaura Namoda-Sokoto. The contract required it to analyse the existing railway infrastructure and traffic, carry out traffic forecasts and cost analysis.

In 2001, CPCS of Canada was brought in by the Obasanjo government to conduct a diagnostic study for the BPE to enable the privatisation of the NRC. CPCS recommended 3 vertically integrated concessions for the operations of the NRC. Other than an invitation for expressions of interest for the rail concessions, nothing further was heard of this attempt.

In 2001, CANAC of Canada was commissioned by the Obasanjo government to carry out a techno-managerial study of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) study for the revitalisation and management of the Nigerian railways. The study was aimed at providing technical support and the development of a business plan. The study terminated abruptly in 2004 after the youthful Chairman of the NRC Mohammed Waziri died in the Bellview crash.

In 2002, the Obasanjo government received technical assistance from the US Department of Transport (DOT) who provided the services of Zeta Tech Associates of the USA to conduct a study on the Nigerian railways to provide a workable, realistic and affordable revitalized rail system. The project was  interrupted mid way but was eventually completed in 2004. It recommended emergency rehabilitation of the infrastructure and locomotives, acquisition of workshop equipment, some organisational reforms and operations based on the American CONRAIL model.

In 2006, the World Bank undertook a study and concluded that the railways “can play its natural role in providing rail transport service by capturing a reasonable market share of freight transport business only when its assets are rehabilitated and its management is in the hands of a private sector entity that has a substantial financial stake in the railways and is capable of providing commercially oriented and customer friendly service at competitive prices.” It also determined that a threshold traffic density of 1.5m – 2m net tonnes per km per annum of freight needs to be expected to justify rehabilitation of railway infrastructure which they estimated at $600m. Unsurprisingly the railway establishment was able to convince government to expend nearly $1bn on rehabilitation while leaving it in charge of the railways with the consequently predictably disappointing results achieving a miserable 100,000 tonnes of freight in 2013.

The 25 year Strategic Vision for the Nigerian Railways:

The Masterplan for an Integrated Transportation Infrastructure (MITI) in 2002 by Julius Berger and Albert Speer estimated freight traffic volumes by road, rail and the waterways in year 2010 in the order of 10m tonnes of freight. This did not include the very substantial volumes of petroleum products which were estimated will reach 20m tonnes by 2020 that were transported by road and pipelines.

In 2002, the Obasanjo government commissioned TEAM of Italy to develop the 25 year strategic vision for the Nigerian Railways which has been adopted as the blueprint for the future of the Nigerian railways. The vision provides for the  transformation of the Nigerian railway system from a non-performing and debt-ridden parastatal corporation to a dynamic player in the transportation sector through strategic investments, new policy initiatives, and by encouraging investment by the private sector. It also provided for a  progressive reduction of the burden of the railway sector on the national budget by developing policies and regulations that encourage investment in the rail sector by the private sector, through the promotion of public-private sector partnerships.

To facilitate this, all costs, benefits and risks associated with investments would be clearly identified and assessed for investment to proceed. It did not stop at these laudable objectives, it also proposed to  introduce transport policies that promote the use of the rail sector. The corollary being that, this will reduce congestion and vehicle emissions, and improve road safety for travellers.

Furthermore, it provided for the strengthening of railway capacity through local sourcing of maintenance and construction materials, and by developing the national capacity in rail technology, including the capacity to design and specify standards for the domestic production of railway components. The delivery strategy entails emergency rehabilitation of the existing narrow gauge lines, expansion of the network by building new standard gauge lines and conversion of the legacy lines to standard gauge. However, from the progress made to date, it would appear that there have been significant departures.

TO BE CONTINUED

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