By Seun Ibiyemi
Confusion currently surrounds the $45m (N16.2bn) narrow gauge rail project signed between the Federal Government and the General Electric (GE) following the inability of the contractor to mobilise to site three months after the contract was signed.
It would be recalled that the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, in June 2018 had said issues in South Africa concerning the movement of equipment had delayed the mobilisation to the site of GE.
However, when confronted on Monday with questions on why GE has still not moved to site three months after signing interim concession agreement with the FG, Rotimi Amaechi refused to answer questions on the narrow gauge and GE, stating that, “I will not answer any questions on the narrow gauge today because we are here for the standard gauge rail.”
However, the Minister had said in May that rehabilitation of the narrow gauge line by GE will commence in two months.
While handing over the letter of award to General Electric as the concessionaire for two narrow gauge rail lines, following the company’s emergence as the preferred bidder in May, Rotimi Amaechi had stated that the concession would see the firm invest over $2.2bn in the two major narrow gauge rail lines that traverse several sections of the country.
Recall that the Federal Government and four companies, including General Electric (GE) and APM Terminals, have signed an agreement to start the interim phase of the Nigerian narrow-gauge railway concession.
The interim phase will include “light remedial civil and track repair works” on the narrow gauge rail line, Head of Communications, GE Nigeria, Yewande Thorpe, said in a statement.
“Additionally, a joint operation will be established between the consortium and the Nigeria Railway Corporation with a supply of 10 locomotives and 200 wagons provided to augment the existing rolling stock in Nigeria,” he said.
It was learnt that the agreement, signed in Washington DC last week, is expected to increase the passenger frequency and the freight haulage capacity from the present 50,000 metric tonnes per annum to 500,000.
GE and the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Transportation, have also engaged in talks for the concession of the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC)’s 3,400 – kilometre narrow gauge lines.
It was learnt that the agreement was signed in Washington DC last week at a meeting attended by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, with officials of the GE.
Other companies involved in the agreement are SinoHydro, an infrastructure construction company and Transnet, a logistics infrastructure management company.
The concession agreement, which will be negotiated after the interim phase, will expand the rail service to up to 200 locomotives and rehabilitate the entire rail system.
“GE is committed to the sustainable development of Nigeria and as such we are delighted to have reached this crucial stage of the project to revamp and revitalize the country’s legacy rail infrastructure system,” GE CEO, Lazarus Angbazo was quoted as saying.
“The consortium looks forward to commencing execution of this interim phase with the continued support of the Federal Government and the Ministry of Transportation. As operations begin, our strong partners, such as Transnet and SinoHydro, will bring their strong operating and development skills to the forefront,” Angbazo said.
The Minister for Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, described the project as an unprecedented commitment on the part of the Nigerian government.
“This milestone project is an unprecedented commitment by the Federal Government of Nigeria which, combined with the GE-led consortium’s drive to modernizing Nigeria’s rail infrastructure, will add immense value to Nigeria’s long term economic growth and productivity.