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OPINION

Reviving The Rail System

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Of all the neglected and abandoned national transportation infrastructure in the country by past administrations, none is more lamentable and regrettable as the decadent and moribund state of the nation’s railway system. For nearly 60 years after the departure of the of the British colonial administers, successive governments turned their backs on the rail sector and allowed it to go into oblivion.

The comatose state of that transport sector speaks volumes about the ineptitude and visionless nature of our leaders since independence. As much as it never occurred to them, it also never mattered that rail lines are a landmark invention in the evolution of the modern system of transportation that became the major driving force in the success of the great Industrial Revolution of 18th century Europe.

The rail system of transportation started in England in 1830 and quickly spread like wild fire across the globe unifying countries, creating great fortunes and enabling the growth of new industries. It thoroughly revolutionised everyday life in every place it touched. As a result, this system of transportation emerged as a great agent of human development and progress.

Rail is usually cheaper and has bigger passenger and cargo capacity than any other means of transportation on land. One train driver can take a couple of hundred containers on the back of one train. On the other hand, it would require about 200 trucks on the road. It creates thousands of both direct and indirect jobs for the good of the economy.

Indian railways system is one of the highest employer of labour in that country with about 1.4 million work force. Train is actually the real mass transit in terms of the volume of passengers it can carry, a record three million commuters use the London underground every day.

Travel by rail is a wonderful experience far superior to travelling by road. In a train you can relax in your class cabin, read your book, watch movies, admire the pristine nature of the country side and arrive at your destination without exhaustion. One of the most important advantages of train is that it has the highest safety record among other means of transportation. Train derailment is a rare occurrence and when it does happen, fatality is usually low in number unlike the case of a plane crash.

The dawn of a working national rail system in the country will have a most transformative impact in the life of every Nigerian benefiting of the very fabrics of our social, economic and cultural milieu in an unprecedented integration of the society through transportation. It is no surprise that the big industrialised countries in North America, Europe and South-east Asia have massive and complex railway networks running on land, elevated concrete (monorail) and underground (tube) crisscrossing the length and breadth of the country to sustain the nation’s economic and social life through the mass movement of passengers, goods and services to their various destinations.

The President Buhari administration is showing great commitment to ramp up the railway infrastructure development in the country by completing what it inherited from the past administrations and going further to expand on it. The scope of the project includes, the coastal line from Lagos to Calabar, western line from Lagos to Kano, eastern line from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, the central line from Warri to Abuja and a trans-border line from Kano to Maradi in Niger Republic. In between these major corridors of rail lines, the administration hopes to achieve inter-city connectivity that will ultimately link up the 36 state capitals. This is a very huge and ambitious undertaking with massive funding implications.

According to the Transport minister, Rotimi Amechi, the government needs about $40 billion to complete the rail interconnectivity of the country. In view of the fact that the rail system has been abandoned and neglected for such a long time, what we are facing today is like starting from the scratch and building a rail network where it never existed before which will require not only heavy capital investment but a long completion period of not less than 15 years. Meanwhile the world has moved on in rail technology with high speed rail or bullet trains in places like France, Japan and China. Notwithstanding previous bilateral agreements, collaborations and technical assistant programmes with the People’s Republic of China, the government should explore further funding and technical assistance opportunities from China if it hopes to deliver on this ambitious project of laying rail tracks across the length and breadth of the country. The reason is that China has the financial capacity to bankroll the required huge credit facility and is one of the leading nations in modern rail technology that is delivering same to other countries in Africa like Kenya, Djibouti, Tanzania, Angola and Ethiopia.

– Agbachi is a public affairs analyst based in Abuja

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