In this report, EMAMEH GABRIEL who has been following the activities of Abuja-Kaduna rail transport after its development in the past one year and eight months, discloses its current status, as well as new experiences faced on the trip from Abuja to Rigasa.
It is almost two years since President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned the Abuja-Kaduna rail transport service. It was the country’s first high speed rail system which connects the nation’s capital city, Abuja and northern commercial capital, Kaduna. The 186.5 Km standard gauge track built by China Railway Construction Cooperation when commissioned in July 2016 had double lines, 9 stations, four coaches and two locomotives.
Recently when new coaches and locomotives were imported to improve the rail transport service en route Abuja-Kaduna. There were four trips that transported about 1280 passengers to and from Abuja and Kaduna daily. Almost two years now since the Abuja-Kaduna rail transport service commenced commercial operation, the concern now is this, how much improvement has been made so far? Have there been changes since the cooperation was handed over to Nigeria by the China Civil Engineer Company (CCEC) who designed and constructed the project?
Last year, the Nigeria Railway Cooperation took over management of the Abuja-Kaduna rail transport service from the China Civil Engineer Company. When the news of a new Nigerian management was made known, the fear was what might become of such a multi-billion dollar project under the watch of Nigerians.
This was not because there were no qualified hands or professionals to manage this sector of the nation’s transport service, but because of the lack of maintenance culture among Nigerians, which many have ascribed to as mostly the contribution to infrastructural decay in the country.
The fear was not only for the life span of these multi-billion dollar facilities but also for the safety of passengers. Investigations by LEADERSHIP Sunday, joining one of the recent trips from Abuja to Kaduna, shows that there has been some level of improvements, though a lot still needs to be done.
During its first commercial trip monitored by LEADERSHIP in July 2016, the operation manager, Idu station, Mr Victor Adamu said there were plans to bring in more coaches and locomotives few months after.
At this time, the question of security of lives of passengers was critical because there were no good measures put in place to that regards. The challenge of overcrowded cabins due to limited services was there as there were only four coaches and two locomotives running just four trips daily.
However to address some of these challenges, President Muhammadu Buhari had recently commissioned two locomotives and 10 executive passenger coaches procured by the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) to be deployed on the Abuja-Kaduna train service.
This means with a total of fourteen coaches (previously four) and four locomotives (previously two), the NRC is currently running two hour train services and at least eight train services a day, as against the previously four daily. That means there will be four train services from Abuja and Kaduna daily.
The president had promised during the commissioning of the new trains, that all economic zones across the country and the states’ capital would be linked to the railway to facilitate businesses, human movements, and cargo.
In his words, “The government is committed to linking all major commercial and production centres by rail for rapid social economic development and improving the quality of life of the citizens and improving the national integration”.
“Other supporting projects that have been approved is the procurement of more locomotives, coaches, wagons, workshops, and equipment that would be used for standard gauge lines’’, said President Buhari on his promise to further investments on the service.
The president also promised to ensure all the other railway expansion projects across the country are executed.
As for the Abuja light rail project which was expected to be launched in December 2017, it has been shifted to sometime later this year.
The first phase of the project will connect the city centre to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, stopping at the standard gauge railway station in Idu.
The Abuja rail mass transit project phase 1 consists of a ‘Lot 1’ and ‘Lot 3’ line. Lot 1 Line consists of Lot 1A and Lot 1B line with a total length of 23.718km.
The Lot 1A proposed stations are – Idu – Gwagwa – Dei Dei – Jibi – Gbazango – Byazhin – Kubwa. Lot 1B proposed stations are Ring Road 1 – Garki – Wuse – Utako – Jabi I – Jabi II – Ring Road III – Gwarinpa – Karmo.
Lot 3 proposed stations are: Abuja – Stadium – National Park – Ring Road II – Wupa – Idu – Airport.
The complete network is planned to link Abuja with satellite towns such as Nyanya, Kubwa, Mararaba and Lugbe. Some of the lines extend from the Federal Capital Territory into the neighbouring states.
Some of the railway stations outside Abuja municipality include Gwagwalada, Nyanya, Mararaba and Keffi all in Nasarawa State and Suleja in Niger State.
All these signal hopes for Nigerians that the country’s rail transport service is going back to its old good days, however there are changes.
Previously, at the commencement of the Abuja-Kaduna rail service, the train fare was tagged at N900 for economy class and N1200 for business class. Prices have however been upped from N900 to N1200 for economy class and N2500 to N3000 for business class per trip.
Even at the increase of fare, Nigerians traveling to and from Abuja-Kaduna still prefer traveling with train as it is still better, faster, safer and efficient for them.
Our reporter who monitored one of the recent trips to and fro observed that security scanners which were not installed at the commencement of operation have now been installed to check any security threat, though there were complaints from boarders at the Kubwa terminal who said the scanner there was no longer working.
‘‘It is not safe for passengers if everyone can just walk into the train without having their luggage scanned’’, said a passenger who refused to be identified.
Also a passenger who identified himself as Ibrahim Mujadu said he has been boarding the Abuja-Kaduna train for over a year now and service is reliable and efficient but one thing among others is still left unaddressed even after complaining to management.
‘‘The staff in the train need to be uniformed. If they are uniformed, then they will be identified. As they are not wearing uniform, you can’t tell the difference between a staff and a passenger.
‘‘Technically, they are good, they are on time, the trains are comfortable, neat and the prices are down to earth. In fact, if I will suggest, I will say they should increase the price of the business class so to encourage people to use the economy class more.
At the terminal in Idu, there have been significant improvements. Passengers who left their homes early to catch up with the first train can now get something to eat at the station. At the lounge, there is eatery where passengers can select from African cuisine or snacks and soft drinks as the case may be.
Unfortunately, not everyone can afford a plate of food due to costs, particularly for those who will rather prefer African dishes.
‘‘My monthly take is N18, 000 and I work every day without allowance for overtime, like Saturdays and Sundays. If I buy a plate of food for N1, 000 daily, that means I will still end up owing N12, 000 at the end of the month, a railway staff at one of the stations had told LEADERSHIP Sunday.
‘‘I have children who are in school and have to be financially prudent. What we are asking them to do is to make provision for more food vendors to make things easier for us.
‘‘They should as well consider increasing our salaries and also make provisions for allowances for our overtime no matter how little it could be, it will help us.
Also, there have been improvements in services inside the train. One can now see medics walking from one coach to another and staff checking all the restrooms inside the train to ensure total sanitary and comfort of users. This is to tell that in the case of medical emergency, there are medics to offer first aid attention.
This does not only end there, as there is now food available for purchasing ranging from tea, coffee, rice and even assorted snacks. You can see the excitement in the face of passengers who could walk up to the mini kitchen to take orders for whatever they want to eat.
But no matter how perfect, management of the Nigerian Railway Cooperation would want to improve it’s service. The issue of corruption among some of its officials may cripple the business just the way it has done to several government organisations in the past, NRC inclusive.
Dilemma Of Passengers At Rigasa Terminal
It was exactly 3pm when the first train that left Abuja on Sunday 18, February arrived at Rigasa, just an hour before the next trip to Abuja, same time booking for the next trip was supposed to commence. Unfortunately, at this time tickets were already sold out to people of choice, and even at exorbitant rates to desperate passengers who were left with no choice.
On normal circumstances, officials are expected to start selling tickets one hour before departure time, but the situation at the Rigasa terminal in Kaduna left a lot to be desired.
The reporter monitoring the incident almost fell prey to ticket racketeers, but for the intervention of one of the management staff he called at the Idu station, Abuja. Passengers who said they were at the station before 1pm, could not get tickets because most of the tickets were sold out to people through the backdoors.
Owunaye Femi who was among the stranded passengers screaming for the release of tickets to them told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the issue of ticket racketeering is becoming a norm at the Rigasa station.
‘‘I came here over an hour ago, 2:30 and departure time is 4pm and they are telling me that there are no tickets. What happened to the tickets? I had similar experience last Sunday. Towards the end we saw people rushing, people that even came after us got tickets.
‘‘So what is happening here? Where did those tickets come from? I don’t know if they are hoarding tickets, but the whole thing looks funny to me. Last week I had to stand while people who came before me got tickets and seats,” lamented Owunaye who said corrupt officials at the Rigasa station are tricking passengers into buying tickets at inflated prices.
‘‘They are putting people under pressure to buy the tickets at high prices. We don’t know those behind this. They are supposed to start selling tickets an hour before departure. You are telling me it is finished. So when did you start selling the tickets?
‘‘If they know that Sunday trips are usually overcrowded, then let them bring in more coaches and increase the number of trips. Why must it be two on Sundays, because this is business?” demanded Owunaye, who finally made his way back to Abuja but was made to stand throughout the two hour journey.
Another lady who identified herself as Hajia Suleiman gave her own side of the story. She said there was a collision of two sets of passengers, those who missed the first train and those for the second.
‘‘I went to make inquiries from the police men and they said the 1pm train that left for Abuja left almost empty and people who were supposed to join the train didn’t make it that was why they have a lot of passengers for the 4pm trip, resulting in an overcrowd.
‘‘What they are doing is to compensate those people who missed the first train to Abuja,” she explained to LEADERSHIP Sunday.
Nathaniel Philips who had experienced something similar told his side of the incident; though he still preferred travelling by rail.
‘‘The last time I was here, I came 2 hours before departure but only to be told that there were no tickets for sale again. I had to wait for another two hours to book for the next train.
‘‘A lot of people that day had to pay for the first train, but they were not given seats because tickets and seats were already exhausted,” said Mr Nathaniel who believed that no matter how bad the situation was, the rail transportation is more reliable and efficient, though he called for improvements.
While the issue of overcrowded coaches still remains to be addressed due to high patronage and limited spaces to accommodate passengers, the questions on online booking continues to receive severe complaints from customers who said such innovation will not only reduce the pressure on them coming to the stations to book two or three hours before departure hours, but also eliminate harsh practices in the system.
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