Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on Monday, September 4, 2023 flagged off the commercial operations of the Lagos Rail Mass Transit (LRMT) Blue Line (Marina to Mile 2) with 800 passengers.
For many Lagosians along the Lagos-Badagry expressway corridor of the Blue Line, the launch of the Lagos Blue Line by Sanwo-Olu could be described as the only presence of the government along that corridor.
This has been tied to several factors by the residents of the area who have often found themselves on the opposing side of the political equation of the state, which has aligned with the voting pattern of the people in every election cycle.
However, this thinking by some of the residents might begin to shift with the Blue Line currently in operation, even though it came a bit behind the original scheduled date. The first section of the network, Phase I of the Blue Line, was originally planned to be completed in 2011, but was delayed because of shortage of funds and change of government.
In February 2021, the Lagos State Government announced that the Blue and Red Lines would be open by December 2022.
The Blue Line came into operation on September 4, 2023.
“The ride from Mile 2 to Marina over the weekend was seamless, but the same cannot be said of Marina to Mile 2 because of the disorderliness to get on it. The experience has been great avoiding the traffic from Marina to Mile 2,” Dare Philips, one of the passengers on the train, told BusinessDay.
According to him, moving from Marina to Mile 2, and vice versa is now 30 minutes compared to the predictable nature of commuting on road, even with the skeletal services rendered by BRT along the corridor. He further said that there was a need to also improve on the waiting and arrival time, which is currently about two minutes.
For instance, the Departure time from Mile 2 to Marina in the morning for the first trip is 6: 30am, while arrival time at Alaba which is the first terminal is 6: 33:05am and departure is put at 6:34:35am, which is said to be way too short for passengers to board the train.
According to BusinessDay findings, the time-frame between the arrival and departure time is partly responsible for some of the disorderliness witnessed in some of the terminals. Also, some of the passengers who spoke with BusinessDay on condition of anonymity said the government should also provide a dedicated car for the elderly and physically challenged persons to save them from the disorderliness that usually takes place in the process of boarding the train.
Another passenger who simply identified herself as Chidinma told BusinessDay that the train service has been helpful financially considering the traffic involved in connecting Marina from her place in Festac.
“The provision of the train has really eased my means of movement to and fro every day., financially, stress wise and timing. We the young masses have adhered to the information of the seat being available to only the vulnerable,” she said.
She however, urged the Lagos State government and the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) to improve the train service along the corridor. “We implore the government to increase the number of trains to ply the track simultaneously,” Chidinma said.
The Blue Line is the first line in the system and opened its first five stations on 4 September 2023. The planned route is 27 kilometres from Okokomaiko to Marina, which was however broken into two phases of Mile 2 to Marina for the first phase of the project; while the second phase covering Okokomaiko to Mile 2 was delayed due to lack of funds.
However, findings by BusinessDay found that the contractor constructing the Blue Line has been mobilised back to site with some preliminary and skeletal work ongoing at Mile 2. Findings indicated that the contractor is currently reinforcing the Mile 2 Bridge to fortify it ahead of the rail track.
“My experience riding the train has been good because it helps to beat traffic in Lagos, but the rushing to get a seat; the pushing, fighting and jam-packing will discourage you,” Ruth said.
However, she insisted that passengers along the Blue Line corridor of the train will have to bear with the rush associated with getting onto the train.
“We have no choice but to enter it because it is safe and helps to beat Lagos traffic,” she said.
The Lagos State government earlier in the week indicated its readiness to increase the train trips along the Blue Line corridor (Mile2 to Marina) from 12 to 54 effective Monday 16 October, and ultimately, 74 trips before the end of November 2023.
It is expected that by tomorrow the tracks would have been energised to allow for the deployment of additional train sets for daily passenger operations.
“We need to shut down train operations for passenger safety while the switch to electricity is on as well as ensure that the test is carried out in a safe manner.
“The practice worldwide is to suspend passenger operations whenever a huge change such as the one we want to carry out over the weekend is to take place. The switch will allow us to introduce more trips and carry more passengers,” Abimbola Akinajo, managing director, Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), disclosed.
As part of the modalities to increase trips on the corridor, train services were shut yesterday afternoon and today Sunday 15 October, to allow the complete change over to electricity. LAMATA also disclosed that the LRMT Blue Line has been able to move over 80,000 passengers, and is expected to surpass the 150, 000 daily passengers target in a few months’ time.
History of Lagos Rail service
The idea of developing a rapid transit in Lagos state was first initiated in 1983 by Lateef Jakande during the second republic with the Lagos Metroline network. However, the initial Metroline project was scrapped in 1985 by Muhammadu Buhari at a loss of over $78 million to the state tax payers.
But, in 2003, another Lagos governor now president of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, revived the rail network for Lagos state with a formal announcement of its construction with an initial cost of $135 million proposed for the greater Lagos Urban Transportation Project, which was to be implemented by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA).
However, LAMATA’s initial focus was the development of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which runs from Mile 12 to Lagos Island, terminating at the TBS. But, in 2008, LAMATA resuscitated the dreams of a public train transport system in Lagos, with focus on the Blue (Marina to Mile 2) and the Red (Ikeja to Marina) Lines.
In September 2011, LAMATA announced that it would acquire some H5-series subway trains formerly used by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). The cars were to be refurbished in the United States and converted to standard gauge before being imported and put into service on the Blue and Red lines.
The same contract also included an option for some H6-series subway cars from the TTC; however, the contract was cancelled. The trains were built as two-unit married pairs with a driver’s cab in the front right corner of each car.
In January 2015, LAMATA opted for Chinese-built trains instead, ordering 15 electro-diesel multiple units from CNR Dalian with an option for 14 more. About 76 H5 cars that had been taken for refurbishment to Buffalo, New York, have been scrapped by August 2015.
But, in August 2018, LAMATA signed an agreement with Alstom. As part of the agreement, Alstom conducted a review of the rail lines. After the review of the rail project, which should have initiated passenger activity, the state government said the Blue Line would now be ready for passenger operation by 2022. This deal also plans for the electrification of a portion of the track.
In January 2022, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu visited the US state of Wisconsin, to announce the purchase of two Talgo VIII train sets for service on the Red Line. They had been ordered by Wisconsin for use on the Amtrak Hiawatha Service in 2009, but they were never placed in service, and were instead stored.
Talgo VIII cars are based on the unique technology of the Talgo Pendular model, which is similar to a bicycle rider that leans into a curve resulting in less sideways force and a higher comfort for passengers when driving over a curvy track.
Timeline of Lagos Rail service
2008: A metro is proposed for Lagos, allegedly with a completion date of 2011.
2009: Construction commences on the Blue Line.
2016: The phase I of the Blue Line from Marina to Mile 2 planned to open in December 2016.
2018: After an Alstom review of the project, a new date of 2021 was set for the opening of Phase I.
2021: The Lagos State Government announced that the Blue and Red Lines will open in December 2022.
2022, January: LAMATA purchases two Talgo VIII trains.
On Jan 24, 2023, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the first phase of the Lagos Mass Transit Blue Line Rail Project.
On September 4, 2023, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu officially opened the Blue Rail transit for public use.