In the midst of mounting challenges especially the clear and present danger posed by the Boko Haram insurgency and the series of calamities which recently befell the country, one may be tempted not to notice or pay attention to some positive developments in the polity. The fact of the matter is that the all important transportation sector achieved a major milestone in
the year 2012. Indeed those who engendered the significant leap forward in the transportation sector did not roll out the drums in keeping with the mood of the nation which has been decidedly sober for some time. However history, the chronicler of man’s failures and successes, will record that in December 2012, Nigeria achieved a major milestone in the transportation sector with the completion of the rehabilitation of the Lagos –Kano rail line.
The project was not only completed but was also put to use for the service of Nigerians. For the first times in decades, commuters left Lagos via the train route and arrived safely in Kano. And now regular train services have been fully restored on the route. It came on the heel of the complete restoration of the Lagos –Abeokuta, Ibadan and Jebba rail lines which have since gone into operation. The ferrying of passengers though significant is not the only major gain of the resuscitation of the Lagos –Kano rail line by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. For the first time in several decades the haulage of petroleum products through the rail system has also commenced in Nigeria. Tankers bearing petroleum products are now lifted from Ebute metta
to Kaduna and other parts of the country with functional rail services through the wagons of Nigerian Railway Corporation. This has been made possible by new purposely built wagons that have the capacity to lift 900,000 liters of petroleum products at once. This, according to mathematicians, is the equivalent of putting twenty seven tankers on the road. What is more the products will get to their destination in good enough time and the wear and tear on our roads will be reduced as well as the associated dangers posed by the ferrying of combustible materials through densely populated towns and villages .The event did not make the headlines of most newspapers and other news media. Not because it was not a unique milestone worth celebrating but such good news like the type recorded by the Nigerian Railway Corporation are not meant for the front pages. Nothing sells like bad news and good news often becomes footnotes to the main headlines of the day. But this good news even if it is not celebrated on the pages of newspapers will have far reaching positive effects on the people and economy of Nigeria.
Indeed, it is not just because a number of Nigerians are now enjoying the rail services that informed the writing of this piece. The spin off effects of the event of December 21 when the service was flagged off are such that would impact positively on the country’s social and economic development. Idris Umar, transport minister, who supervised the flag off simply hit the nail on the head when he stated that the Lagos -Kano rail line is another promise kept by the Jonathan administration which has said it would restore train services because of its strategic importance of providing efficient and cheap transportation to Nigerians. Train service is a cheap and effective means of transportation which until recently had been all but abandoned by successive administration with the country paying dearly for the neglect. Dr Jonathan who promised to transform the transportation sector simply consolidated the resuscitation process started by his predecessor, the Late Umar Musa Yar Adua and the gain of continuity and tenacity of purpose is what is now being enjoyed on the Lagos –Kano Train route.
For Adeniyi Sijuwade, managing director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, the benefits of the restored rail tracks include enhancement of trade and commercial activities and employment generation all through e routes of the rail lines. The economic benefit is already being reaped. Haulage firms and manufacturers of heavy goods have started taking full advantage of the services. Feelers from the NRC indicate that firms dealing in heavy equipment and goods have contacted the NRC to take advantage of the haulage potential. The benefits of this development would be numerous. Because it is relatively cheaper and safer for products and goods to be transported via rail consumers will get them at cheaper rate and the incidence of accidents will be reduced to the barest minimum. As the NRC extends the haulage services through the rail line to other parts of the country and stakeholders key into the new development, roads across the length and breath of the country will last longer.
Those in the know like engineers have blamed the deplorable conditions of roads across the country on the haulage of heavy goods and materials by articulated vehicles on the country’s road network. And the social and economic vibrancy associated with train terminal towns will return. This is a welcome development in this period of economic downturn.
The resuscitation and commencement of full services on the rail network in the country should not make the ministry of Transport and Nigerian Railway Corporation go to sleep. It is not enough that the rail tracks are active and up and running again. All steps and measures should be taken to prevent a return to the bad old days when the rail lines were simply allowed to rot and the wagons became unserviceable. The NRC and its supervising agencies and ministry should not make the mistake of the past when maintenance culture took flight as soon as new initiatives were put on the table. The NRC, should as a matter of course, put measures in place to ensure that it sustains and improves the services being rendered. The management should devise a round the clock maintenance of the rail tracks and the passenger and goods wagon.
This should be done through the deployment of well trained and motivated maintenance crew and personnel to all points of operations. Security of personnel and passengers should also be paramount.
Train accidents could be deadly as such adequate measures should be put in place to prevent such occurrence. The sanctity of the rail lines should also be maintained through round the clock surveillance to prevent acts of sabotage. Personnel should also be deployed to all the level crossings to prevent incidents of trains colliding with vehicles or pedestrians at the crossings. The watchword should be safety, comfort and functionality at all times. For now let the train ride continues.
Adelaja Adebanjo contributed this piece from Ijebu Ode and can be reached via [email protected]