Perhaps in no other African city is efficient rail system most desirable than Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, and Lagos, its economic nerve centre. With the near total collapse of the rail system built by the colonial administration, and consolidated upon by the early nationalists of the first republic, there has been a growing gap in Nigeria’s transportation system even as the population keeps increasing, leaving millions of the citizens to grapple with road as singular most dependable mode of transportation.
As this is happening, the roads, due to poor maintenance are fast becoming death traps, with ditches and gullies getting deeper resulting to accidents and untimely death of thousands. While government agencies, including the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) will point to dangerous overtaking, over speeding, drunken drivers, overloading, poor maintenance of vehicles as some of the factors responsible for the spate of accidents on Nigerian roads, they have however never disputed the role bad road plays in the carnages being experienced on the roads.
Besides lives and properties being lost, another consequence of the country’s dependence on road to move people and goods is heavy congestion in most of the urban cities, where people sometime spend hours in traffic.
Although air transportation in recent years, following the deregulation of the aviation industry, has come close to bridging the widening gap, its impact on the nation’s overall transportation system has not been felt. This is to be expected.
Apart from the fact that the industry in Nigeria is yet to develop to the level where skepticism about safety is completely removed, the vast majority of the citizens are cut off by cost. With a domestic flight of about an hour costing as much as N22, 000, only an insignificant percentage of the population can fly.
In the face of this, many have argued in favour of the rail system as the best alternative. This is not only because efficient rail moves thousands of passengers and goods with relative cheaper cost compared with aircraft and others, but also because it does not require much space like road.
Since its early introduction several years ago, rail has had the luxury of being one of the most efficient modes of transportation. Indeed, the amount of power needed for a given train can be matched more closely with adding or removing a locomotive. With trucks, there is one tractor to one trailer limit (with triples allowed in certain locations).
In terms of manpower, a typical train has a few crew members to move the people and commodities on board. With this comes the added benefit of concentrated service and repair. With trucks, rescue/repair crews may have to travel all over to repair and rescue vehicles with issues. With trains, you know where they are and where they are going. This means you can concentrate your rescue vehicles and crews in strategic locations and keep your trains moving.
In terms of safety, the mass of the trains ensures an excellent chance that the commodity will arrive undamaged unlike road where highway collisions can cause damage to goods. Indeed, with more goods being shipped by rail, the number of trucks on the road goes down and with it the chances for crashes.
These benefits may have informed the decision of the Lagos State government to consider the re-introduction of the rail system, which according to Governor Babatunde Fashola, will commence this year.
The unfolding rail project, according to Fashola, who has embarked on a number of trips outside the country to woo investors for the multi-billion naira project, is being designed to improve and sustain an efficient public transportation system in a city which population is estimated at close to 18 million.
Providing details, Lagos Metroplitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), the agency that pioneered the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme in the state, and a major stakeholder in the rail project, says the initial first line to be developed as part of the Lagos Urban Rail Network will be the Blue Line, which will run from Lagos Island west to Okokomaiko, a total distance of 27 kilometres. The western 21 kilometres of the line will be positioned in the centre of the Lagos-Badagry expressway, which is to be expanded by the state from its present 4 lanes to 10 lanes. The rail line is to run on the median of the road.
Thirteen passenger stations will serve the line; some of which will interface with Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) service. The stations at Iddo, Ebute Ero and Marina will also serve the Red Line, another arm of the project, which will run north from Marina to Agbado.
When completed, the Blue Line according to LAMATA boss Mobereola, will be lifting 300,000 – 400,000 passengers per day while the Red line will lift 1.3 million simultaneously.
Mobereola says the Blue Line will start with an initial eight coaches, to be extended later to 12 while the red Line will start with 12 coaches which will be extended to 16.
Both lines apart from creating 2500 direct employment each will create thousands of jobs indirectly with other exponential effects. According to Mobereola, 70 per cent of the materials to be used will be sourced locally with imports limited to expertise for technical services.
On whether the project has the blessing of the federal authorities, LAMATA says Lagos State, federal ministry of transport and the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) are working together on the project.It is also gear towards poverty reduction as it is expected to provide economic opportunities and promote viable communities. For many people in agricultural sector, this will be a relief considering the bad state of the road networks which have largely hampered effective transportation of manufactured goods and agricultural produce from points of production to points of consumption. Lagos is indeed set to work again.