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Movement of containers on Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge to begin soon – NRC MD

The Managing Director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Engr. Fidet Okhiria in a chat with our correspondent speaks on the efforts to curb the…

The Managing Director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Engr. Fidet Okhiria in a chat with our correspondent speaks on the efforts to curb the vandalism of railway critical infrastructure and other issues on the operation of the railway. Excerpt:

What is the rate of passengers on the Lagos-Ibadan rail corridor despite the constant vandalism of the railway infrastructure?

We are sensitising the communities around the railway. Also last time, the ministry provided six vehicles for the security to ensure that actions are taken quickly. We know the vehicles cannot go on the tracks but we are making arrangements to provide motorbikes for them to patrol the tracks.

However, what we see is that people even come there with arms, exchange guns with police and civil defence. This is now, however, affecting our patronage. Our patronage is still going up. It is still quite safe. What we do is to educate our train operators that they should never stop even when somebody is lying down on the tracks, just don’t stop because you don’t know what they are planning. We are also looking backward to see how we can design clips that can make it difficult for people to unscrew and remove the rail.

We are also liaising with the various security agencies to support and provide necessary coverage. In Abuja-Kaduna, we have the air force patrolling. We are also looking inwards to see how we can deploy technology. But you know this technology will not come cheap. It comes at a very heavy cost. You talk about satellite monitoring, sensors on the tracks, we need to also ensure that the sensors we are putting are not also going to be vandalised. We are working on those strategies to make sure that the track is safe for Nigeria. What we do now is to patrol the track with the railbus, that is why we are able to detect if there is any clip or rail disconnection that can lead to an accident. So we make sure that we pre-empt it and detect it and fix it, which would cause a delay for 30 minutes. But that has only happened once and we pray it doesn’t happen again. So we are trying our best and ensuring that our staff are dedicated and doing their work.

So what about the passengers’ flow in all the railway corridors?

Yes, I can tell you the passenger’s number is growing on a daily basis. Abuja-Kaduna service is rising because of the introduction of e-ticketing because people can buy the ticket at their convenience. Lagos-Ibadan is also rising. When we did the free rides, all the seats were always engaged and occupied. The revenue profile is also increasing.

I usually don’t look at money but the impact the train service is making. Yes, money will come but the more trains you run, the more expenditure you incur. As far as the impact on the economy and commerce of Nigeria is concerned, we want to ensure that we provide the service that is befitting and commensurate with the attention the government is giving to the Nigerian Railways.

We saw that the standard gauge line from Ijora to the seaport has been dismantled, what is the update on this?

That is why we have a defect liability period and a trying period. What we discovered was that after Ijora, there is a place after finishing where they carried out a soil test and they discovered it was a refuse dump and we said this may cause problems with the track. So we had to call back the contractor to do proper work, the formation had to be removed and a better formation is being made. It will be completed soon and the work will be neat. So they are working there seriously and we hope by the end of March, we will be able to move the standard gauge containers from the Wharf to Ibadan.

The federal government recently sent some Nigerians to China to study Chinese railway engineers, especially on the operation of the standard gauge, how far have they gone and are we going to see Nigerians manning the standard gauge trains?

Nigerians are manning all the technical aspects of the railway as of today. You know there is a transport university coming up with a rail department.  Now, 150 youths who are not more than 20 years have been sent to various schools of technology and universities in China and paid for by the contractor, which is also part of their corporate social responsibility. Some of them would get to PhD level, some of them will get to masters and they would become pioneer staff in the University of Transportation, Daura. One set left early and another went later. The programme is ongoing.

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