Four years after the ground-breaking of the 157-kilometre Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail line, the project is ready for commissioning today.
Stakeholders, especially the Nigerian business community, are excited and optimistic about today’s commissioning ceremony of this project in view of its potential to enhance ease of doing business in the nation’s commercial capital.
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Vice-President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who was then acting president, performed the ground-breaking on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari at the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) headquarters, Ebute-Metta Lagos, heralding the commencement of work on the first-ever double-track standard gauge rail in West Africa.
The Lagos-Ibadan fast rail is a section of the Lagos-Kano project, with an extension to Apapa. It starts from the Lagos-Ibadan axis with nine stations, along the mainline, comprising Lagos, Agege, Agbado, Kajola Papalanto (Ogun), Abeokuta, Olodo, Omi Adio and Ibadan.
With the extension to Apapa, the project now has 10 stations.
A few weeks after the ground-breaking, China Civil Engineering and Construction Corporation (CCECC), the contractor handling the project funded jointly by the Nigerian and Chinese governments, immediately commenced work.
The project, supervised by the Federal Ministry of Transportation, started with the acquisition and clearing of right of way by the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC). Due to the massive encumbrances on the Lagos corridor, the track laying commenced from Ibadan, the terminal end.
From day one when the project commenced, the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, embarked on a monthly inspection which he sustained till the end.
The minister and his team from the ministry, the NRC and other officials of the state government on the rail corridor regularly combed the deep forests of Ogun and parts of Oyo states in the early part of the project; navigating through the swampy terrains of Papalanto, Kajola, Papalanto, Olodo, among others.
On one of those days, the minister’s car broke down due to the marshy terrain which gets worse when it rains. That was when the contractor was still creating the right of way prior to the track laying.
But the project got underway and on February 8, 2021, the federal government inaugurated the first phase starting from Iju, Lagos to Abeokuta, Ogun State, after the completion of track laying on the axis covering about 85km.
Since then, attention was shifted to finding the best engineering solutions to the avalanche of impediments in the Lagos corridor including but not limited to pipelines belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the water pipelines belonging to Lagos State, among others before the commencement of track laying from Iju to Ebute-Metta.
After series of technical meetings by the Project Steering Committee comprising representatives of all the agencies of government involved one way or the other, the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge which is Lot 2 of the 2,733km Lagos-Kano standard gauge connecting the South to the North – and a key component of the Muhammadu Buhari’s railway modernisation project – has become a reality.
It would be recalled that the project initially kicked off with a free trial run from Iju to Ibadan in December 2019 where passengers were conveyed free of charge. Though the service took off with low turnout, it later became oversubscribed and the project was running until 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic struck with the subsequent lockdown.
Even during the COVID-19 lockdown, the contractor was still at work and it was within that period that the track laying reached Ebute-Metta, the original terminal point.
As soon as the lockdown was lifted and with the track laying completed to Ebute-Metta, Lagos, where the main and biggest station known as Mobolaji Johnson Station is sited, the federal government launched commercial service with one daily passenger movement from Ibadan to Lagos in the morning and Lagos to Ibadan on return while finishing touches were being put to the stations.
But today, the stations are ready and the project is set for inauguration by President Buhari to signal the commencement of full commercial rail service.
Of strategic importance to the economic transformation of the country is the linkage of the service to Apapa, the home of the nation’s premier ports in Lagos, which is under stress owing to the gridlock caused by tankers and trucks queuing endlessly to lift petroleum products or containers from the ports. Businesses and companies operating in the Lagos-Ibadan axis and outside continue to groan over the Apapa gridlock.
Clearing containers in the port has been described as a perennially Herculean process. Most companies say it is cheaper to bring containers from abroad than to clear them from Apapa to Ikeja.
Despite the several committees and task forces aimed at restoring sanity, the port area remains a huge chaos. Trailers, trucks and several articulated vehicles dot major access routes to Apapa.
In the absence of an efficient railway system to facilitate massive cargo freight, road transportation becomes the only means of conveying containers and goods from the ports.
But this, according to the federal government will soon become a thing of the past with the Lagos-Ibadan rail which links major terminals in Apapa including ENL and APMT.
The minister of transportation said the federal government decided to extend the project to Apapa to aid massive cargo evacuation, stressing that the project would make less impact if it was not connected to the port quay.
Amaechi also hinted that once it fully comes on stream, the federal government would restrict certain tonnage of trucks from the ports, while enforcing compulsory cargo evacuation by rail.
Ahead of the commencement of full commercial operations, the NRC has equally taken delivery of a set of Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) and 24 coaches, according to the Managing Director, Engr. Fidet Okhiria.
The MD also said seven locomotives for freight are on the ground while 87 wagons also for freight have been received. The wagons would be used in conveying perishable goods from the port to various locations.
On passenger service, Okhiria said, “When we start fully, we would have eight trains coming down, eight trains going up on a daily basis, making 16.
“One will take off to Ibadan without stopping, one will stop at Abeokuta and there is one that will stop at all the stations.”
With the train movement, analysts say the nation’s economic landscape would witness an unprecedented transformation while having an impact on reducing the cost of goods.
According to Nigerian traders under the aegis of Reformed Traders Association of Nigeria (RTAN), prices of goods have largely skyrocketed due to the high cost of transportation from the South to the North.
President of the association, Amb. Edi Chinedu, said this could be addressed with the efficient rail system.
The traders also charged the federal government to fast-track the construction of the Ibadan-Kano leg of the project to ease the movement of cargo from the South to the North.
This, he noted, would drastically cut down the prices of goods as it would reduce transportation cost which usually affects pricing.
The chairman, NRC Board of Directors, Malam Ibrahim Al-Hassan Musa, said the Buhari government has written its name in gold by its railway reforms.