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Can Nigeria stimulate economic growth through railways?

Over the last year, rail transport appears to have gotten a new lease of life in Nigeria, particularly with the Lagos-Ibadan route that was launched. However, much of Nigeria’s transportation is done by road, and infrastructure that remains inadequate and in poor condition for most parts.

The economic losses due to logistical challenges, which for many businesses is one of the biggest nightmares, could remain for a very long time until rail transport is purposively designed to move cargo. In particular are heavy cargoes that cause the strains from heavy duty trucks making roads literally fall apart, the accidents that accompany their activities and other avoidable hazards including environmental pollution.

The growth of the Industrial Revolution was said to have depended on the ability to transport raw materials and finished goods over long distances. There were three main types of transportation that increased during the Industrial Revolution: waterways, roads, and railroads.

Historians argue over the fact whether railroads determined the pace of economic development in nineteenth-century America. The issue is a controversial one, but the fact remains that the railroads came, saw, and conquered nineteenth century America in more ways than one.

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A similar feat can be achieved in Nigeria where terrible roads have had a negative impact on the ability of industries to thrive and achieve their full potentials.

In the earlier industrial revolution in the West, railways had a major impact on farming, as perishable goods such as dairy products could now be moved long distances before they were inedible. The standard of living rose as a result. New companies formed to both run railways and take advantage of the possibilities, and a major new employer was created.

At the height of the railway boom, massive amounts of Britain’s industrial output were funneled into the construction, boosting industry, and when the British boom subsided these materials were exported to build railways abroad.

Mustapha Muktar, wrote in 2011 to assess potentials of economic value for rail systems in Nigeria, stating that; one of the key factors that play a pivotal role in a region’s economic growth is the presence of a reliable and efficient transportation system, this is mainly due to the fact that a well developed transportation system provides adequate access to the region which in turn is a necessary condition for the efficient operation of manufacturing, retail, labour and housing markets.

Transportation is a critical factor in economic growth and development. It is a wealth creating industry on its own inadequate transportation limits a nation’s ability to utilise its natural resources, distributes foods and other finished goods, integrates the manufacturing and agriculture sectors and supplies education, medical and other infrastructural facilities. There is the need therefore to maintain and improve the existing transportation and build new infrastructures for national wealth. The national wealth is the growth of domestic products (GDP) which is an indicator or measure of the rate of economic growth.

Apanisile Tolulope in a 2013 paper on rail transport and economic growth in Nigeria, noted that the Railway system plays a significant role in the development and overall growth of any economy. It is often regarded as the wheels of economic activity because of the crucial role it play in providing the bulwark upon which production and distribution stand. It opens up regions, hinterlands and rural areas by facilitating agricultural development as well as the growth of cottage and large scale industries.

Railway systems also attract residential, commercial, educational and recreational settlements and developments around its corridor. Due to the role it performs in the growth and development process, rail transport is seen as the mainframe around which an integrated national transportation system is built. Its capacity, which is further accentuated by its safety and security factors, coupled with its ability to travel longer distance with ease and lower unit costs, places it in good stead to serve as the hub of a transport system of a nation.

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