ROWLAND ATAGUBA | Monday May 11, 2015

At every turn, the railway establishment claimed it was implementing the 25 year vision but there was no evidence that “all costs, benefits and risks associated with investments had been clearly assessed before the investments proceeded”. There was no evidence either of transport policies that promoted the use of rail other than unsustainable passenger fares. Neither has there been any evidence of the building of local capacity in railway technology as most of the companies contracted in railway rehabilitation have no demonstrable long term commitment to the Nigerian railways nor is there any evidence of how the private sector has been encouraged to invest in the railways. As far as the objectives of the vision are concerned, 12 years since the adoption of the 25 year vision, the railways have not been transformed from a debt ridden parastatal to a dynamic player anywhere. The strategies contained in the vision have been varied in implementation without rationale or benefit. Others have been simply ignored.

Railway reform has lacked a champion because the railway establishment perhaps find the status quo convenient seeing as, reforming the railways will lead to some loss of power. However, when the railway works sustainably, it can take up to 80,000 trucks (or about 2.4m tonnes) per annum of freight off the roads for long distance haulage, reducing road accidents, wear and tear on roads and maintenance costs, enable competition and integration with other transport modes and so on. The stakeholders benefit from better value for money, choice and safety and lower green house gases. It frees the roads for the  safer carriage of passengers and frees resources for other urgent unavoidable maintenance and for capital investment. This defines a sustainable future for rail and one on which it could build on to include passengers for inter city travel as it stabilizes and expands.

Urban traffic congestion is eased by metros not by mainline railways. The NRC mainline out of Lagos port can and should however ease the Apapa-Oshodi conundrum. The NRC should not be involved in mass transit in Lagos. It is has not made much impact on traffic congestion in Lagos, and diverts NRC’s limited resources to unviable and unsustainable purposes. The Lagos Light Rail must be supported fully by the FG to speedy conclusion as the cost of Lagos traffic congestion to the Nigerian economy is significant. Other states and private sector players with aspirations for metro must be encouraged with FG support. The Abuja Light Rail must be supported to speedy delivery. These metros are pioneers in Nigeria and will set the pace for future metro developments in other cities.

The railway workers need to appreciate that the times have changed and change they must. A flexible attitude in collective bargaining preserves the sanctity of employment relations and they need not be combative. The old model of the spend and bust public corporation has not served their interests which is to perform a credible service for their country and be able to secure their families. The NRC once employed 45,000 workers, today it employs less than 10,000. Can the civil service produce 10,000 new railway workers in 4 years, can its payroll sustain?

Railways can solve a lot of our problems, but not all of them. For many years the Kaduna refinery has stood forlorn and unable to get supplies of crude from the south because the pipelines have been vandalised. A huge railway boom has been underway in North America in the past year in the movement of shale oil by rail. The railways reformed and restructured can transport all the crude oil Kaduna refinery needs.

Sustaining the railways means reform and restructuring. There is no running away from that fact. The political will to implement the reforms has been slow in coming. 6 years for the railway bill to be sent to the National Assembly does not suggest a sense of urgency by government, perhaps foot dragging.

Across Africa has seen a wave of railway reform and restructuring, and it is no surprise that the railways in Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon and South Africa which are run by private operators are among the most effective and dynamic. Even the British from whom we inherited the railways have managed to privatise their railways with significant lessons for us.

For the railways to assume its rightful place in the Nigerian economy, it needs strategic coherence. It needs new impetus – It needs a champion.

Rowland Ataguba

Managing Director                                                                                                                  20 April 2015

Bethlehem Rail Infrastructure Limited,

London NW7 4RS

Ps: Rowland Ataguba is Chair of the Rail Work Group of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and author of the epoch series, “Modelling the Nigerian Railways”.

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