Excitements, hope and expectations are the expressions on the faces of some Nigerians who recently visited the Kubwa terminal of the Abuja-Kaduna railway line to have a ride to Kaduna.
As early as 6 a.m., hundreds of passengers queued up at the station to buy tickets sold at N600 and N900 for economy class coach and first class coach respectively.
At 7:15 a.m., the train arrived in Kubwa station from the take-off station – Idu — and boarding began.
Some concern commuters, nonetheless, expressed concern about the arrangement in boarding.
They observed that passengers shoved and squeezed themselves into the train while those that paid for economy class got seats in the first class coach and vice-versa.
Worried by this, the train service officials started to identify those who were sitting where they ought not to sit, sorting them out accordingly.
The poor boarding arrangement notwithstanding, passengers observed that they sat comfortably with enough leg rooms, watching the movies on the television sets hanging at the roof.
At 70-kilometre speed per hour on route Kubwa-Jere-Rigana-Rigasa stations, the passengers said the journey really thrilled them.
A passenger, Mr Kayode Emmanuel, said he was thrilled by the rail service, saying that the coaches were serene, neat and properly air-conditioned.
He, however, said that the boarding system was not well organised, adding that the security situation was also, somewhat, loose.
“Some people bought tickets and ended up standing in the train because the seats were exhausted.
“The security checks were not thorough and a potential criminal or terrorist can easily sneak in with a weapon,’’ he said.
Emmanuel said that the management should know the number of passengers each coach could contain and sell tickets accordingly to avoid crowded coaches.
Another passenger, Mr Isa Yusuf, said that he expected that passengers on board the first class coach would be given light refreshment.
“Beside this, passengers that bought first class tickets could not get seats in the first class coach which led to altercations with the officials of the train.
“They should stop manual ticketing; with electronic ticketing, each passenger will easily identify his seat number and seat accordingly.
“I bought tickets at same time for me and my wife but we ended up sitting separately and that is not ideal,’’ he said.
Miss Abigail Peter, another passenger, said that the issue of living in Kaduna and going to work in Abuja daily was not tenable with the speed of the train.
“If the train leaves Kaduna at 7a.m., it will arrive in Abuja at Kubwa between 9:15a.m. and 9:30a.m., and perhaps arrive in Idu between 10a.m. and 10:15a.m.
Irrespective of these noticed gaps, the Managing Director of Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), Mr Fidet Ikhiria, said that the Abuja-Kaduna train service had recorded N5 million within the first two weeks of operation.
“On the first week of operation, we made N2.2 million; on the second week, we made N2.9 million.
“We have capacity for 320 passengers per trip; for now, the maximum we can carry per trip is 320.
“So, for a day, the maximum number of passengers we can have for a day is 1,000,’’ he said.
He said that efforts were being made to start fencing of the tracks, admitting that there were operational lapses but the management was working towards addressing them.
He said that some of the staff had yet to get used to the seat numbering as it was different from what was obtainable in the previous trains.
According to him, the coaches are overwhelmed by the number of people coming on board.
“We are going to do more enlightenment at the station and communities levels on operations,’’ he said.
He said the train moved at 90-kilometre speed per hour from the initial 70-kilometre speed per hour but would get to 150-kilometre speed per hour in due course.
According to him, the slow speed of the train is to avoid accidents as people living close to the tracks have yet to get used to the movement of train.
Okhiria said that efforts were being made to beef up security at the stations and on board train.
The managing director said that efforts were also being made to install internet facilities in the train.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Niyi Alli, Director of Operations, NRC, said that the services would improve with time.
He, nonetheless, argued that there was nothing wrong in passengers standing in a train as it was obtainable in many countries on the world.
“What is required is that we need to have more trains so that as one is moving, in few minutes; another one is coming.
“Irrespective of the challenges, Nigerians have demonstrated that they are willing to travel by road and NRC has to improve on its services.
“If we have 14 coaches spread out, people will go to different coaches and there will not be rush but because we have five coaches, everybody wants to get and there would be rush,’’ he said.
He said that the Idu, Kubwa and Rigasa stations had the highest number of passengers so far.
Fears and concerns expressed by Nigerians on the rail service notwithstanding, the Managing Director of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Mr Bayo Onanuga, who was in the trip, said that the train service was a laudable project.
He said that Nigerians were beginning to enjoy train services the way they did in the 60s and 70s.
The NAN boss said, however, that NRC needed to do more work.
“Apparently, NRC underestimated the interest of our people in boarding train.
“They need to acquire more trains; they need to increase the capacity and increase the frequency of movement.
“They need to provide food and other services such as internet; it is a good one; we made it to Kaduna in two and half hours,’’ he said.
Similarly, the Editor-in-Chief of NAN, Mr Ado Lawal, who was also on board of the train, said that there was need to rehabilitate the access road to the Rigasa and Kaduna stations.
According to him, seats should also be provided at the Rigasa station where passenger would wait before boarding.
However, perceptive observers are of the view that the train service will create more jobs, boost commercial activities and contribute to economic growth.
They observe that the lapses identified will be corrected as the services progress.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently inaugurated the N1.46 billion dollars Abuja-Kaduna train service.
The railway modernisation project began with the signing of the contract for the construction of the Abuja (Idu) to Kaduna (Rigasa) rail line in 2009.(NANFeatures)