• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Nigeria records 89% drop in rail freight, passenger traffic in 55yrs

Lack of strategic government funding, deficient performance and erratic service delivery in the movement of goods and commuters by train in Nigeria, have caused a declining average of 89.15% in freight or cargo services and passenger traffic within the past 55 years.

Part of the problem has been attributed to the failure of the government to transit from narrow gauge to standard gauge as a result of lack of strategic funding.

This information is contained in the 2013 National Integrated Infrastructure Masterplan, produced by the National Planning Commission and approved by the Federal Executive Council in 2014. 

The contract for the modernisation of the railway (double track) was awarded in November 2006 at a cost of $8.3 billion and no significant results have been achieved, says the report.

It further states that the abysmal drop in the haulage locomotive and passenger movement since 1960, many years after many countries have transited from narrow gauge to standard gauge, has adversely affected national integration and slowed down balanced economic development of the country.

Industry watchers say that the cost of this failure include road congestion and disrepair across the nation, as a result of overuse, as well as higher transportation cost for goods and commuters because of the near absence of the cheaper rail mode of transport.

Others are high accident rates and congested cities, whereas cheap and efficient rail transport is said to encourage people to live in more affordable and peaceful satellite towns, while working in the more busy cities and commuting by train.

The report states that successive governments since the nation’s independence, have neglected the rail sector which is  key to any country’s political and economic development.

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It further observes that the country’s rail infrastructure and facilities comprise of 3,505km of narrow gauge rail line, and 827km of narrow gauge sidings and loops, 255km of standard gauge rail line and a large quantity of rolling stock, infrastructure, station buildings and other property investments.

Other infrastructures include a 715 km of branch lines, 280 railway stations and 267 railway outstations, including 353 bridges across the entire track length.

It says that inspite of all these, significant investment will still be required to ensure completion of links to ports; rehabilitation of crossing loops and sidings; rehabilitation of rolling stock and locomotives; acquisition of maintenance equipment; addressing environmental issues; and upgrading of track and structures for 18-ton axle loads.

It reasoned that because of the huge financial outlay required for such venture, private sector funding and technical expertise would likely be canvassed.

Oseme Nathaniel, a Lagos-based transport analyst, while speaking to BusinessDay on telephone, said Nigeria, due to its large population and economy, had substantial demand for intercity passenger and freight movements.

He regretted that apart from lack of commitment on the part of past military and civilian governments over the years, deficient performance and erratic service had also contributed to very sharp drops in freight volumes from three million tons in 1960 to 15,000 tons in 2005; which is equivalent to about five trucks per day.

Over the same period, passenger traffic had declined from three million to 500,000 passengers per year, equivalent to about 25 buses per day. Today’s traffic density, at only 15,000 tons per kilometer, is substantially lower than the already-low levels on other African countries railways that have less population size, economic activities and gross domestic product.

Frank Umeadota, an economist Diaspora Nigerian, said that building and sustaining rail networks requires huge capital and recurrent expenditure. Umeadota recalled that between 1898 and 1964, Nigeria developed 3,500 km of rail network in spurts. Thereafter development stalled until 2006, when construction began with 485km of standard gauge rail in 3 locations.

The rail subsector faces significant challenges and presently, Nigeria is pursuing liberalisation of its railways through reforms in the rail sector, and concessioning of its rail network through the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC).