Rail Transport: A Need To Do Better

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It was sometime towards the end of 2012, while returning to Abuja from my weekly travels to Kaduna for my Doctorate Degree, that I decided to follow the rumoured short cut through Jere and Bwari, at that time some portions of the roads were still under construction, and that did not deter me .

I made the route my regular route to and from Kaduna and Abuja. While travelling, one could not pass without noticing the beautiful landscape with hills and valleys as well as mountain peaks on both sides of the road.

One other noticeable feature of the road is actually man-made, the Abuja-Kaduna rail track which, at some point, runs parallel to the road with just a few metres separating them. At that time, I made up my mind that I will use the train for my shuttles.

A lot of people, including myself were excited with the completion of the project; I even got an opportunity for a first class travel with the president on the day the train service was officially commissioned. Although, for personal reasons, I could not make the trip.

The opportunity to travel came this weekend precisely on Saturday, 3rd of September 2016. Prior to this date, I had visited the train station on two occasions, the first to master the route to the station and the second to make enquiries about tickets and other travelling requirements. It was to be a big occasion because I was not travelling alone; I had my wife and two daughters who were travelling by rail for the very first time with this trip.

I found the requirements of form of identification, be it driver’s licence, voter’s card, national I.D or International passport to be very impressive. So when I announced to the family that we would be making the trip to Kaduna by rail, it was an excitement galore in the house and trust my ever inquisitive daughters, the questions kept coming. Daddy how is it? Is it like a plane? Does it run fast? Are there many people? In answering their enquiries, I reminisced with stories of how exciting the trains were during my secondary school days and how we used to have exciting holiday trips from Jos to Minna. Those were good old days of railway in Nigeria. The trips were not only exciting, they were on time and on boards services were also excellent. We then, always looked forward to travelling by rail.

These got my daughters excited and they were anxiously looking forward to the trip. To understand their excitement, they got their IPad charged, dusted my binoculars and bought drinks and snacks for the two-hour trip to Kaduna.

On that fateful afternoon, we arrived the station two hours before the take-off time. Our first disappointment was when we got to know that the first class tickets were sold out, so we were undecided as to whether to travel second class or go back home and try another time.

In any case, the ticket attendant informed us that there is not much difference between the 1st and 2nd class coaches. Even though, I really wanted the 1st class, we had to travel 2nd class because I didn’t want to disappoint my wife and kids.

My second disappointment was that the ticket attendant did not ask me for any form of identification before selling tickets to me. We obtained tickets and waited two hours within the waiting area which has a good sitting arrangement similar to our airports. The convenience is well attended to. In no time, the ambience made me forget about my disappointment of not getting 1st class tickets and we continued talking in anticipation of the arrival of the train from Kaduna and our subsequent trip on it. While waiting, I came across some of my friends who coincidentally also had their children who were also travelling for the very first time on the train just like my daughters.

At exactly 2 pm, an announcement was made for boarding. There was an initial rush but things settled down gradually, the passengers queued up and were ushered through a glass door to the train on checking their tickets. We followed the cue, minutes later we managed to be seated in our coach after much confusion and rowdiness as there was no orderly boarding arrangement, this was my third disappointment.

The train honked and moved on schedule at exactly 2.20pm, which is the way it used to be. We gradually picked up steam and arrived Kubwa, 15mins later. Here, the train picked up more passengers and to my disappointment, there were no seats for them. Typical for this particular trip, most of the people that entered the train at Kubwa were also young children.

Our excitement started fading away and frustration gradually started setting in, there were young children and their parents standing everywhere, some kept their boxes on the floor and sat on them, the whole coach became noisy due to the commotion and to compound the problems, the toilets did not have running water. After many stops at various small stations along the way, we finally got to Kaduna at about 5pm.

I made few inquiries from the staff on board about the problems I noticed typically, the blame was shifted to their Ogas at the top who unfortunately were not riding with us.

In my view, there is an urgent need for the management of the Nigerian Railway Cooperation to urgently look into these issues with the view of addressing them.  Apart from the enthusiasm with which Nigerians greeted the re-introduction of rail transport, there is also an obligation on the part of the government to ensure the sustainability of this system in medium and long-term.

– Ahmed wrote in from Abuja

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