Rail Modernization Project: Viewing The Collapse From The Lapses

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

Different regimes either military or democratic have over the years made spirited efforts to develop the Nigerian railway system through funds granted to the NRC. Despite these attempts, there appears to be motion without movement in Nigeria’s railway system. The funds allocated to railway development in various Developments Plans serve to corroborate government’s interests. In the first National Plan for example, $43.30 million representing 14% of the total allocation to the transport sector in the plan was voted for the development. This allocation was expended essentially on the Bornu extension, the purchase of diesel locomotive, 1425 wagons as well as relaying of tracks (with heavier rainfall) to make room for greater speed. This rose by 87.1% to $108 million in the Second National Development Plan (1970-1974) period. This stood at 17.1% of the transport sector size allocation in that plan. However, the disbursement under the plan left much to be desired. In 1973, a year to the end of the plan, only $13.95million representing a mere 23% of the total allocation had been disbursed.

This covers all the State Capitals and major commercial centers in the country. Within this framework, it is further agreed that the 1st Phase of the Railway Line should entail the LagosKano Standard gauge, double track railway line spanning over 1315 kilometers with a loop from Minna to Abuja and only Abuja to Kaduna being single track due to inadequate anticipated traffic. It was further agreed that the scope of work, segmentation and construction will follow 5 segments: LagosIbadan, IbadanIlorin, Ilorin – Minna,Minna – Kano; and Minna – AbujaKaduna.

This new approach was designed to significantly impact on our people and their communities. It will ease movement, reduce reliance on vehicles and the airport, promote tourism, and build on the foundations of integration, unity, cooperation, and social harmony that we have been working so hard to consolidate.

The design criteria or technical features are: A speed of 120 to 150 km/hour for passenger service, A speed of 80km/hour for freight service,Rail gauge of 1435 mm Standard Gauge, Maximum gradient of 12%, and in exceptional situations 15%, Minimum curve radius: ordinary terrain 2000m, difficult terrain 1200m;Traction type: diesel-electric engine (3 phase engine). Axle weight: 23 tons, Type of rail: 60kg/m, Block type: computer interlocking, inter-station automatic block, subject to being upgradeable, Continuous welded rail shall be applied on all the tracks.

Contract formalities for the award and commencement of LagosKano First Phase Project of the modernization program though signed but not was set on the ground… Any effort to revamp the dead railway sector is a welcome initiative. However, the economics of the programme provides me some discomfort. It is agreed that the average cost of building a kilometer rail hovers around $2million and its close to the contract sum. The construction of the rail line would had employed tens of thousands of Nigerians immediately, but the entire prospect failed to promote technology transfer, refused the building of new skills, and declined from the development of rail allied industries. As much as possible, local materials were abandoned.

Nigeria expected another regime of capital flight away from our shores. Though China Development Bank could provide needed funds; such will be repatriated to the Chinese economy on the long run. The sophistication of such an enterprise is still lacking in Nigeria and it makes a case for the importation of needed equipment and expertise by the Chinese constructing firm(s). Again, our borrowed money could provide multiples of jobs for China, even at the expense of the Nigerian nation. Though Nigeria may have the railway system revamp on the other hand, a sizeable chunk of the monies, which could be repaid to China, will eventually domicile in same country. Failed Senses!

The crux of the matter is that, a fraction of the said $2.5bn could make positive difference to R&Ds in our universities. New tracks are already being laid on several lines and the Lagos local railway services have been modernised to meet urban and suburban needs. A $1.26million injection, representing 5% of borrowed funds, to R&D can help drive meaningful innovation for our ailing railway sector. The implication of this is that our nation’s ivory towers will become more alive to their duties while providing needed impetus for the development of the Railway sector. This ultimately drives and lowers cost that may be incurred.

By 1980s, we used to take pride in our railways network, the largest on the continent. Now, it is hopelessly outdated and produces great losses. The decision to privatise the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) therefore does not come as a surprise to anybody. There is need for modernization of the Nigerian Railway System, which is still based on the prevailing technology at its inception early in the century, according to the Nigerian Ministry of Transport. The needs are great, and the government is looking for investors. Since the Nigerian railways is viewed as being “in comatose” until now, but investments and the privatisation was to revitalize the ancient proud of Nigeria. NRC needs upgrading of the 3″ – 6″ (1067mm) gauges, a modernization of track maintenance and a conversion of wagon bearings and trains.

Good a thing the Senate Committee on Public Accounts recently commenced a probe of the $8.3 billion dollar rail modernization project; asking on why the immediate past administration entered into the project without completing the $528 million rehabilitation project started by the Abacha regime. Committee members led by the chairman, Senator Ahmad Lawan were particularly concerned that the same Chinese company, CCECC was awarded the $8.3 billion modernization contract without showing evidence of performance in the earlier contract given it by the Abacha administration.

The purported 25-year national plan for railway development initiated four years ago appears tardy and unrealistic and therefore should be scrapped. A proper decision must be taken on whether the rail mode should be public service centred, commercialized or privatized. The current vogue in the civilized world is privatization. There are several models to be emulated in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. One will recommend the British public-private sector combination with ownership of the infrastructure by

government and routine operations concessioned to private operators.

For instance, Light rail had the highest percentage of growth among all modes of transportation, with an increase of 5.4 percent in the United States. More than 62 American cities now have or plan to build light-rail systems. There are now 651 light-rail stations around the country, operated by 26 transit agencies. Commuter rail agencies add another 1,153 stations.

Despite transit critics who charge that light rail offers “limousine-priced” rides to people who would otherwise have taken the bus, there’s ample evidence that transit is cost-effective (especially when the cost of gridlock is taken into account), and ridership is increasing from people who would otherwise have taken their cars. When the St. Louis light rail opened in 1993, not only did the number of passengers far exceed expectations but bus ridership also increased 20 percent. In Toronto, Canada, transit carries 77 percent of all downtown-bound commuters during rush hours. Portland, Oregon’s Tri-Met light-rail system eliminates 187,000 car trips every day, or 58 million per year. s took more than 7.8 billion public transportation trips in the first nine months of 2006, up three percent from the previous year.

The critical areas of development necessary in the railway organization should concentrate in redressing the dilapidated nature of the present railway infrastructure, which was occasioned by years of neglect. Attention must be given to the updating and modernization of infrastructure to bring it in line with contemporary railways all over the world. There is pressing need for the realignment of existing track to flatten sharp curves and ease gradients, provision of continuous welded rails of suitable section on. Concrete sleepers and the mechanization of track maintenance as well as the strengthening of bridges should be proposed. The archaic signaling and communications should be modernized. Apart from the ongoing extension of the railways to the steel rolling mills, the linking of the ports of Onne and Tin Can Island ports is also imperative. All state capitals not yet linked to rail lines should be connected as early as possible including the federal capital Abuja. The entire locomotive running sheds and carriage and wagon workshops must be modernized and expanded. The proposal, which had been on the drawing board for the local assembly and manufacture of locomotives and rolling stock, should be expedited.

I think the causes of indiscipline cannot go beyond those who use frivolous contract to sap this nation off her hard earned resources; owing to its detriment act to the growth and development of the nation. Rail operation must be liberalized and a conducive environment created for private sector participation .The National Assembly should book down or bring to book those who were involved To curb these flaw proper and adequate measures should be taken to encourage public-private partnership in this directions. Also government should abolish the privatization idea of Obasanjo regime, since it paid nothing but conversion of public properties into personal affairs.

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