By Ayodeji Adegboyega |  October 21, 2019

Train [Photo Credit: irishtimes.com]

The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, says 20 new coaches would be arriving Nigeria for the Abuja-Kaduna and the Lagos-Ibadan rail lines in about six weeks.

The minister said this while speaking with journalists at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on Sunday on his arrival from China.

According to a statement from the ministry, Mr Amaechi said he visited China, where he took delivery of some new trains, to get more locomotives and coaches.

“They’re all ready. It will take six weeks to get to Nigeria and maybe one week to clear them,” the minister said.

“For the Lagos trains, it will be easy; it will take a day or two to get it to the track. But for the trains coming to Abuja, it will take one week or two to get it here.

“To my surprise, the coaches we released two or three weeks ago to go to Kaduna arrived just within two days. So, we hope that when these trains arrive Lagos seaport, we should be able to get them fast,” he said.

Out of the 20 coaches, the minister said 10 will be for the Abuja-Kaduna rail lines and the remaining 10 for the Lagos-Ibadan rail line.

This, he said, will be a temporary measure as more trains are still being built for Nigeria. He said the Lagos-Ibadan rail line will be completed once the trains are delivered.

The Abuja-Kaduna road has become one of the most dangerous roads in Nigeria. This has made passengers to turn to the railway as a safer means of transportation.


Months ago, Borno State lawmaker, Ali Ndume, after his experience on the train, pleaded with the federal government to deploy more coaches to the Abuja-Kaduna rail line in order to ease the plight of passengers plying the route.

The Transport ministry’s statement further stated that the minister, while taking delivery of the new newly built trains in China, did a test run of the locomotives and motored cars.

He was said to have confirmed that the trains were better and of higher technology than what obtained previously.

Maintenance

Mr Amaechi said he made sure that the contract has a maintenance clause, a habit he said he cultivated years back as governor of Rivers State.

“As governor of Rivers State, I made sure that everything I did in Rivers State was maintained,” he said.

”I kept a maintenance contract going. What is happening there now, I won’t know. So when people ask me, what do you do about maintenance? The answer is, in all our contracts, you have a maintenance contract.

“Like now, the one for Abuja has expired and I have just directed them to renew the contract. Though I’m going to seek approval from both the President and the cabinet, the Chinese should not leave the site for now,” he said.

He also said rail engineers from Nigeria are being trained in China to take over the maintenance from the Chinese.

“Also, what is critical to the sustenance of our railway system is what we are doing in China. We are training our people. The Chinese won’t live here forever, they have to go, so our own engineers will take over. And I met with some of those Nigerian engineers during my China trip. We hope that in the coming years, they will come back and then we can stop the Chinese maintenance contract in both Kaduna-Abuja and Lagos-Ibadan,” he said.

For the Warri-Itakpe rail line, the minister assured that it would be completed early next year.

“That one is nearing completion. It should be completed by January/February, March latest, but that’s not the problem, the problem is Abuja to Itakpe with the Seaport in Warri. We’ve signed all the documents, we are waiting for the Chinese.”

Comment:

Way to go!! More rolling stock for Abuja-Kaduna is great news…but,

10 more coaches only  marginally improves the provision. It still falls far short of the need. We need to see an operations plan for hourly trains in either direction. This means a lot more than 10 coaches and locos. It gives users similar options as the roads, its main competitor. That’s how to compete and this is where govt run businesses are deficient because they do not understand the competitive environment. Users need flexibility and reliability. These are key modal choice influences.

We now hear that they want the Chinese (train drivers?)  involved in operations to remain. The question must be asked as to what those  arrangements are. The NRC problem is however not how to drive trains as they have enough train drivers and technicians for what they have though insufficient. It is how to run an efficient railway business. We need to hear them speak more in the language of railway business, setting and achieving meaningful targets. They talk more about spending rather than investment and much less about revenues or return on investment. We need to hear more of operating ratios, traffic density and market share etc. 

Since 1964, the NRC has not been able to cover its cost of operations talkless of its capital investments. Its share of the transport market has dwindled to less than 1%. So we all subsidise it and for what gain? Year after year, billions and billions have been and are being poured into it and we continue to hear the same platitudes from govt after govt.

For over 50 years we have treated symptoms rather than the disease. Throwing money at the railway will not solve its problems but we seem to persist in doing the same things over and over again and  expecting a different result. Sadly we can only assure that the result will be the same. 

Only competent private operators will solve our railway conundrum and until we reform and restructure our railway environment, we will continue whistling in the dark. We must also separate railfreight from passenger rail. They are very different types of businesses with different customer types requiring different organisations, different equipment, different markets. Quick fixes only provide temporary relief, great headlines and photo ops, and now great debt but only clinical surgery will provide enduring succour. The railway bill and the NTC bill remain the sign posts to the tentative preliminary steps to reform. For over 20 years we have tried to pass the reform bills that would signal our seriousness and open up the railways to more  investment. Whosai!? So far yet so near.

Lagos-Ibadan SGR will not be ready by this year end. They may however  be able to run services on completed track sections like Abeokuta-Ibadan perhaps, but the stations will not be ready either. One must worry about the HSQE  implications arising from the conflicts of the NRC as operator and regulator. This is why it is disappointing that Mr P has still not assented to the NTC bill establishing an independent regulator. Notwithstanding, 10 coaches is a drop in a mighty ocean for  Lagos-Ibadan. The demand on that route is so high that we must brace up for chaotic scenes like on Abuja-Kaduna unless we can put together a credible operation with adequate equipment and decent ticketing arrangements. Things that come naturally to a private operator but for a govt agency like NRC, a nigh impossible luxury.

Buried somewhere in this news also is the hint that they now hope to complete Warri – Ajaokuta – Itakpe by next year i.e. 2020. The same line that they have in the past year repeatedly told us had been completed. We must however remain grateful for small mercies and live in perpetual hope.

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