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Reporter’s Diary: A Trip On Abuja Light Rail

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One week after the landmark inauguration of Abuja light rail which opened a new vista in public transportation in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), EMAMEH GABRIEL, who has been monitoring developments in the sector joined other Nigerians on a forty minutes ride from airport station to the Abuja Metro Station in the heart of the city. He writes about its convenience.

Interestingly, the launch of this first intra-city standard gauge shuttle service , a promise fulfilled by the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration is coming barely two years after he commissioned the Abuja-Kaduna rail mass transit. Days after Mr. President launched the commercial service with pomp, I decided to have a feel myself and I obviously savoured my ride. It was my first time of travelling on that moving mass of gigantic metal , so, getting on one of those things, even though it is a gasping locomotive, had a fresh appeal. Aimed at integrating with the Nigerian Rail Network as the project, President Muhammadu Buhari who described the stride as part of his administration’s commitment in fulfilling part of his campaign promises, stated during the commissioning that the 45.245km standard gauge rail line from Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, is prioritised for phase developments, which will depend largely on available resources targeted at preferential demand.

According to PMB, the rail links thirteen communities with twelve stations at the Abuja Metro, namely; Stadium, Kukwaba 1 and 2, Wupa, Idu, Bassanjiwa, Airport, Gwagwa Dei-Dei, Kagini and Gbazango. He disclosed that the project which is divided into six lots with total length of 290km has in line with six lots which includes; Lot 1: from Nnamdi Azikwe Expressway through the Transportation Centre (Metro Station) via Gwagwa to Kubwa; Lot 2: from Gwagwa via Transportation Centre (Metro Station) to Nyanya/Karu; Lot 3: from Transportation Centre via Idu Industrial Zone to Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport. Lot 4: from Kuje Satellite town to Karshi Satellite town with the remaining legs of the Transit way line 2; Lot 5: from Kubwa via Bwari to Suleja and Lot 6: from Airport via Kuje and Gwagwalada to Dobi,’’ he explained. Minister of the FCT, Muhammed Bello explained that the implementation of the project was divided into phases, with phase 1 already inaugurated by Mr. President. He stated that plans to access infrastructure through soft loan agreement with Exim Bank of China for the supply of the remaining coaches, including their maintenance for three years at a cost of 194 million dollars has been concluded. Bello revealed that the bank would fund 85 per cent of the total cost of the project, while FCTA will initiate counterpart funding of the remaining 15 per cent which amounts to 37million dollars. He added that the FCTA has commenced work on phase II of the Abuja Rail Mass Transit Project.

The FCT Transportation Secretary, Kayode Opeifa hinted that the rail system will provide 100,000 direct or indirect jobs for Abuja residents. Observations made during visits to the station that the initial four trips per day has been reduced to two to cut cost, since it is still running a free for all ticketing, this was further confirmed by a staff at the airport station. Unlike the previous day that a trip was missed at the train station after struggling for about thirty minutes to scout my way into the station at the airport due to the absence of sign posts that should direct first timers, this time, under the torrential rain, sauntering into the station right on Time was not a problem. From the entrance of the terminal, you can boldly view the ongoing construction works. But the beauty of the decorated environment, is the artistic attraction from the glassy structure standing, which further gives a feeling of awe. It is indeed a beautiful sight to behold. Security at the terminal is excellent . There are policemen, darting across the entrance to the complex to check those who saunter into the ticketing area and the lobby without for proper checks. ‘’Good afternoon Sir, please your bag’’, said the security man at the entrance who politely requested that I open my bag for search, while at the same time scanning my body with the machine he held in his hands. While I was being attended to, a voice from the speaker at the waiting hall notified passengers that ‘’there is no toilet in the train’’, hence they have to use the toilet at the station before departure.

Two hundred metres away, from the spot, while waiting for the arrival of the train, I spent the better part of my time observing passengers
to satiate my journalistic appetite. I strolled to take a look at the convenience. It is a set of modern designed toilets looking neat but without toiletries and disinfectants. In few minutes, even without the announcement from the speakers at the waiting hall, the train announced its arrival with a hum that can easily tell of its gigantic build. At this time, passengers were informed to get set for the trip and subsequently told to queue in front of an electronic scanner with their tickets and luggage for screening before boarding. Different from what was reported few days after it was commissioned, surprisingly, the patronage has drastically increased with the train filled to capacity , while other boarders stood all through the journey, some alighted at the Idu Station. The interior had a single line up of beautiful chairs at both sides with passengers facing themselves and at the middle of the ceiling were a line up of hangers for standing passengers. The train had a neat and new look about it. While the train sped off, staff of the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), the construction company managing the project were seen moving around taking questions from passengers. Some passengers on board embarked on the trip to see what a ride on the train felt like, some came for leisure with their families, and others were travellers coming from different parts of the country who had come in through Murtala Mohammed International Airport.

For a few others, it was a free and short ride from work to home for less or just forty minutes as against the hundreds of kilometres they usually traveled from the airport to their destinations. You can tell from the delights expressed on the faces of passengers on board that it was a moment of fun for most first time boarders. While others exchanged pleasantries, commending the government for the project, others took pictures with their mobile devices and even extended the merriment to others by asking those sitting close to them to assist or join them for photographs. ‘’Wow I can’t believe this is happening in Nigeria said one of the passengers who declined speaking with Leadership. He said he wished the government could complete on time the other phases to bring the project close to the ordinary man.’’ He joined other passengers on board to speak of the lack of maintenance culture among Nigerians that had in the past left most government own businesses, like the Nigerian Airways and even the NRC moribund in the past. While some raised concern over the slow pace of the rail, a staff of the Nigeria Railway Corporation who joined the Federal Road Safety Corps on sensitisation campaign on the train, said though he is not allowed to speak, the rumour that the train is slow should be disregarded. He explained that ‘’There is no need running on full speed when it is an inter-city trip with different sub-stations to stop at for boarding and alighting’’. He also stated that , “As time goes on there will be an improvement. When you have these observations bring it to our notice so we can take measures to rectify them.” In the same vein, a passenger, Ali Tanko, said despite the good intentions by the government, the first lot was supposed to have been directed to highly populated areas like the Nyanya -Mararaba axis to decongest the traffic in that part of the FCT.

‘’When I heard of the commissioning of this train, I had a sigh of relief that it was getting to the common man first. These people flying planes and eventually get picked by their drivers at the airport don’t need this, but the average Nigerian who leave their houses in the slums early every day to evade traffic’’. ‘’We can’t continue like this’’, cried out Tanko who said it is injustice to the majority of Nigerians in the FCT. Also on board were about twenty officials of the Federal Road Safety Corps who joined the train from the airport station to access the traffic from the metro station to other boarding areas across the city. Speaking with Leadership, Deputy Corps Public Education Officer, Ali Sulei Tanimu, said he came with his crew to assess the influx of passengers to and from the city centres to the airport and to look at the rate of traffic along the Abuja Airport road. ‘’We are here today to observe the movement of the train from the metro station to the airport and to access the traffic that is moving from the city centre by train to Idu so that we can make an analysis of the risk factor in movement, the advantages and disadvantages because when you look at the rate of traffic in Abuja, especially on Airport Road, every you record high crashes which are fatal because of the speed of road users to get to their destination. “With the Abuja light rail mass transit, we discovered that many people traveling from the airport to city centres would want to utilise the train and in less than forty minutes they are in the airport, board their flight to their next destinations. That reduces the number of vehicles that would be plying the airport road and also reduces the risk of crashes on Airport Road, he said.

“We are here to carry out feasibility studies to set up plans on how to man our men because when the rail commences full operation, there would be high traffic to the metro station as safety has become every body’s business. “So, we have to look at the route and access the traffic pattern both morning, afternoon and evening”, added Mr Tanimu who commended the government for making the project one of its core priorities. Other Nigerians Speak Peter and Emmanuel Obajeh, twin brothers who were en route Lagos to Kaduna said they stopped by to board the light rail to Idu and thereafter take the Abuja Kaduna train to Kaduna to have a taste of the new ride in town. ‘’It is my first time using the train. I must say it is a wonderful experience. We are so proud to be riding on this and we are proud to be called Nigerians’’, said Peter Obajeh. On his part, Emmanuel Obajeh said it is a good one that government has brought the service to the people. We are based in Lagos and this is our first time entering a train in Abuja. There are trains in Lagos but they can’t be compared with what we have here in Abuja. “We were going to Kaduna but had to stop in Abuja to get the experience. For me, I want the government to do something about the one in Lagos, because the ones in Lagos are very bad. In Lagos, you would have seen Lagosians hanging all over the train. We want this type in Lagos,” Emmanuel appealed. Mrs. Falebita Stella who also narrated her experience said the last time she boarded a train was when she was a kid. ‘’The margin is too far compared to what I am seeing here. Nigeria has arrived and I can see the country moving on. This is more or less as if one is in a plane. Mrs Becki Ajibola, a resident of Kubwa who earlier raised questions on maintenance culture while on a heated argument with other commuters, said she was travelling with a train for the first time after the 70s.

While she commended the government  for the project, she expressed fears over the ability of Nigerians to manage and sustain the project if eventually handed over to the government by the Chinese who are currently managing it. According to her, ‘’One thing I like about this government is its ability to continue to complete abandoned projects by the other governments. This rail project is an example. Look at all the road networks in Abuja that started even during the Abacha era, they are completing them. I commend them and I wish they will keep it up’’. She however suggested that ‘’One section of the rail project should be left in the hands of the Chinese, it could be the maintenance or the management. If they hand over everything to us, it will go down like the other ones. Because like I was saying earlier, the federal character will come in and the argument on which section of the country is to manage it or is dominating it, will come in as it has always been the Nigerian thing,” she said.

While alighting, she drew the attention of one of the CCECC staff to the absence of toiletries in the toilet at the airport station and even the metro station, which this report also confirmed. ‘’It is not good that you don’t have tissues and soaps in your toilet’’, she complained. You have to do something about it before your toilet is messed up one day’’. While the conversation went on, it was only forty minutes even with the slow pace, safety and convenience that accompanied the journey that would ordinarily have taken more than an hour. As I made my way back to the heart of town, flashes of the lush, green vegetation and the sprinkle of jagged houses clustered along the train route hit my third eye. There is just something about experiencing the beautiful endowments of nature. What an experience!



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