After many years of inactivity, railway stations in Rivers, Plateau and Bauchi States are in ruins. Daily Trust visited the facilities and reports.
Revitalizing the tailway is one of the priorities of the present government. However, while is a noticeable progress in building new infrastructure, the old assets of the corporation are left to rot away.
The premises of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) at Station Road, Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, is an eyesore. A first-time visitor to the expansive yard of the railway terminus, located adjacent the popular Azikiwe Junction, will think the once bubbling railway station is a waste dumpsite.
The entire premises looks desolate as the yard is dotted with obsolete and old coach parts, broken down vehicles, including trucks.
Although Daily Trust did a report on the sorry state of the railway station in 2017, nothing has been done about it; hence the situation has not changed.
When our correspondent visited the station, only few persons believed to be members of staff of the corporation were seen loitering about and engaging in conversations.
The only functional business outlets at the station are two bars, located at the right wing of the administrative block of the corporation. The bars serve as eatery joints for visitors, who come to relax and entertain themselves.
Most parts of the premises are overtaken by weeds, an indication that the station was shut down for a long time.
A member of staff of the corporation told Daily Trust that the railway station stopped operation more than a year ago; soon after the Federal Government awarded a contract for the rehabilitation of the railway track network on the eastern line.
“This place has not been operational since last year. Members of staff of the corporation no longer come to work because there is nothing to do.
The problem started since the contract on the rehabilitation of the railway track network eastern line was awarded. You can see that this station has become desolate,’’ our source said.
It was learnt that all the coaches that ply the Port Harcourt-Aba-Enugu route were withdrawn since the station stopped operation.
It was further gathered that the operation of the station was stalled because of the recent #EndSARS protest across the country, which disrupted business activities, including free movement of train coaches.
Our correspondent also learnt that activities of vandals on the railway tracks affected the smooth operation of the station. One of the vandalised tracks is located along Elenwo, leading to Oyigbo.
Another staff of the station who pleaded anonymity said all the coaches that plied the Port Harcourt route had been withdrawn. He added that although staff of the corporation have been redundant for more than a year, they have been receiving their salaries.
“The entire station has been deserted because it has not been functioning. All our coaches have been withdrawn; hence staff are no longer coming to work. If you look round you would find out that nothing is happening here. This is how it has been for more than a year now.
“Another challenge we have is the frequent vandalism of tracks by criminals. This has disrupted the smooth operation of the station,’’ he said.
Another staff at the station also said, “As you can see, nothing is happening here, apart from the two bars located inside the premises. The two bars serve as both restaurant and drinking joints, where staff and visitors come to enjoy themselves. Many of the people you saw at the bars are visitors.
“Our staff members no longer come to work because the station is not operational. The Federal Government awarded contract for the rehabilitation of the railway track network on the eastern line; maybe that is the reason the station is not functioning. But I am hopeful that things would change for better when the project is completed.’’
The spokesman for the eastern operation of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Enugu, Mr Onovo, also said the recent #EndSARS protest across the country affected the smooth operation of the station as some of its facilities were vandalised.
In Plateau State, our correspondent who visited the headquarters of the railway station in Jos reports that there was no trace of coaches, while the narrow gauge track leading into the station looked inoperative.
At the station, pieces of sleepers of the gauge tracks recovered from thieves by security operatives were seen.
Hawkers and other petty traders have taken over the area, apart from the main building of the station.
Sources familiar with the station told our correspondent that there had not been rail activities in the station for the past 20 years.
When contacted, officials from the station, who did not want their names mentioned, told Daily Trust on Sunday that they were not permitted to talk to the press.
For over 10 years, rail activities have been at a standstill in Bauchi State. When our correspondent visited the railway terminus in Bauchi, it was observed that the station is now a shadow of itself, with non-functioning coaches. The tracks and maintenance facilities are dilapidated following many years of inactivity.
Our correspondent observed that majority of the offices at the station were locked, while very few administrative staff ran skeletal services.
The workshop is shut down, leaving only pockets of stores that sell cement.
The main entrance to the station has been turned into a gambling spot, attracting retirees, members of staff and the host communities, who come to play games daily, while petty traders hawk commodities.
A member of staff of the corporation, who did not want to be named, told Daily Trust on Sunday that for more than six years, train has not visited the Bauchi station.
He said, “I remember that when the management of the corporation made efforts to fix the track in 2013, a train visited the station to test the repaired track, but since then, we have not seen any train in Bauchi railway station. We are just receiving our monthly salaries without doing anything.’’
A senior staff of the corporation who spoke on the condition of anonymity attributed the total collapse of the railway in northern Nigeria to three factors, including the attitude of politicians, who dumped the huge investment in the old narrow gauge on the pretext of replacing it with standard gauge and the lackadaisical attitude of the elite from the North, particularly the North-East, where majority of livestock and agricultural produce are transported through the train.
“When the railway was functioning, thousands of cattle from Gombe State were transported to Port Harcourt, as well as millions of metric tons of cement from Ashaka to the southern part of the country, apart from agricultural produce.
But after the commissioning of the Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge, the old narrow gauge was dumped. And it was not included in the 2016 budget. That was the beginning of the destruction of the narrow gauge.
Unfortunately, everything has been politicised, such that even with available resources, government could not construct a standard gauge across the country in 20 years because construction of railway tracks is capital intensive and time-consuming,’’ he said.
All efforts to get the reaction of the District Manager of the station in Bauchi, Ali Miko Bichi, an engineer, were not successful as he declined to comment on the activities of the corporation in the state.
by Victor Edozie, Port Harcourt, Ado Abubakar Musa, Jos & Hassan Ibrahim, Bauchi