South West stakeholders urge FG to extend rail to cover country

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As many people in the South-West Zone have now embraced train transport system, the Federal Government has been urged to extend the services to other states that have not been reached.

They spoke in separate interviews with the Newsmen.

In Ekiti, some residents appealed to the Federal Government to fulfil its promise of accommodating the state in its rail revolution programme.

It was reported that Ekiti is currently one of the states in the country without rail line or services.

The respondents, made up of businessmen, professionals, regular travellers and farmers among others, unanimously said that availability of rail services would boost the state’s economy and uplift lives of the people.

Commenting, Mr Jide Olasanmi, a Produce Supplier, said Ekiti was too strategic to the South-West and indeed to Nigeria not to have rail system.

According to him, the current wave of banditry and kidnappings, usually being experienced by passengers travelling by road, will be reduced with rail transport in place.

Also, a Public Affairs analyst, Mr James Akomolafe, recalled that the government, through the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, in May, 2018 had announced in Abuja that Ekiti was part of the states to be covered.

Akomolafe said that the minister made this known at the signing of 6.68 billion dollars contract agreement for the Ibadan-Kaduna segment with China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).

He quoted the minister, as saying at the signing ceremony, that Ado-Ekiti would be connected with a single track branch line from Osogbo in Osun, pointing out that up till this moment, nothing had been done.

“The minister signed the contract on behalf of the Federal Government, and the mere mention of Ekiti on the drawing board then, elicited jubilations among the people.

“But here we are, we are worried as to what stalled the commencement of the project.

“We heard him when he said the agreement was for the Ibadan-Kaduna rail line, which was part of the Lagos-Kano rail line, and that the completion time of the contract should be between two to three years, depending on availability of funds, but now, it is almost four years.

“He indeed promised that the Ibadan-Kaduna standard gauge line would pass through Osogbo-Ilorin-Minna to Kaduna, with a single track branch line from Osogbo to Ado-Ekiti, but it is only Ekiti that has now been left out of the whole arrangement when the actual project started manifesting,” he said.

In her contributions, Miss Fatimah Yusuf, a non-indigene and undergraduate in one of the universities in the state, also pleaded with the government to extend rail services to Ekiti.

Yusuf said that having rail line extended to Ekiti would enable her to travel to Kwara, her state, without fear of being attacked.

According to her, resuscitating railway as a mode of national transport is most acceptable, as it will enhance the growth of the economy and promote safety and social environment.

She, however, advised that measures should be taken to ensure that integrity of the rail transportation system was maintained for optimum performance and benefit of the people.

Also, Mr Joel Akinniyi, a large scale farmer, said affordable and efficient transportation system was key ingredient for sustainable development in every sector of any nation.

A retired teacher, Mrs Mosunmola Alabi, who now engages in business, said she believed that railways could provide the most cost-effective and affordable form of transportation for traders and farmers alike.

A community leader and businesswoman, Mrs Olufunke Omoniyi, said with three of her children graduating without jobs, she believed that availability of rail services would open up direct and indirect employments in the state.

Alhaji Shehu Magaji, the Chairman, Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN), Kwara chapter, Magaji called on the Federal Government to extend rail transportation to other parts of the country in view of its acceptability.

According to him, many Nigerians, especially business persons, have been patronising all existing routes of the improved rail transportation in various parts of the country since it is cheaper.

“The rail transportation now has a positive impact on the nation’s economic growth and development; it is widely acceptable by many Nigerians.

“I have travelled on several occasions on the Kaduna-Abuja rail route and l can say with all sincerity of purpose that the rail transport system is comfortable, safe and highly acceptable.

“Rail transportation is safer than other means of transport and can accommodate large luggage.

“The Federal Government should, however, endeavour to extend its services to other parts of Nigeria,” Magaji said.

He also suggested that more coaches be provided for the existing routes to accommodate more passengers in various parts of the country.

A resident of Ilorin, John Babatunde, said Nigerians had accepted the rail transportation system principally because of the security situation of the country.

According to him, with the rail transportation system, the chances of being kidnapped, especially in the volatile parts of Nigeria, are low.

“More people will embrace the system once the price of fuel goes up; it is economically viable,” he said.

He said that considering the poor road network in the nation, it would be better to use the train.

“It will help reduce the hassles one goes through on the road,” he said.

In Ibadan, Mr Calitus Oyemadu, the Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), Western District, said that the level of acceptability and patronage of rail as a means of transportation had increased.

Oyemadu attributed the increase to the level of infrastructure development in the sector and the commencement of operations on standard gauge that transport passengers from Lagos to Ibadan and vice versa.

According to him, Nigerians have realised that it is safer, cheaper, comfortable and faster considering the travel time to board train than to go by road transportation.

“The corporation usually witness an upsurge in passengers’ patronage in train services, especially on Saturday and Sunday.

“Patronage on the rail has increased, especially with the inauguration of the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 10,” he said.

Oyemadu, however, said that operation of the narrow gauge train service, taking passengers from Lagos to Kano, which had been on suspension since 2020 during the pandemic, would soon resume.

The operation, he said, ought to have commenced, but for the heavy rain that swept the train sleepers at Osogbo.

“The problem has, however, been resolved and operation will soon commence,” he said.

Mr Dipo Ibrahim, an indigene of Ibadan, said that he now preferred to board train to Lagos, wherever he worked because of the reduction in travel time, compared to road transportation.

“In train transportation, you are sure of departure time and arrival time, unlike the roads where there will be traffic, and one is not sure when to get to the destination.

“I do sit at the standard class where I pay N2,600 and there is comfort in there,” Ibrahim said.

Also, Mrs Esther Adeosun, a trader, called on NRC to expedite action on the operations of the narrow gauge train services.

“In order to further boost the country’s economy, they should not neglect the narrow gauge services for the standard gauge,” Adeosun said.

According to her, I usually go to the North to buy some foodstuff using the narrow gauge service.

“I now find it difficult to go by road due to high cost and insecurity,” she said.

Adeosun attributed the high cost of foodstuff to the increase in transportation cost.

She said that effective functioning of the rail transportation system would help to reduce the cost of foodstuffs, among others.

In Osogbo, Mr Adeyinka Rasaq, Operation Officer of the Nigeria Railway Cooperation, Osogbo train station, said that trains operating along the rail tracks on the state corridor were used to transport loads and not passengers.

According to Rasaq, what is obtainable in Osun is the narrow gauge track, which is designed for trains that move goods and loads across the country.

“It is the standard gauge that is being used to convey passengers and not narrow gauge, which is being used in the state,” he said.

Rasaq, however, said that plans were underway to start commuters train services in the state.

He said that the level of patronage of passengers using the train to convey their goods was reasonable enough.

In Abeokuta, residents commended the government for the railways services the town had begun to enjoy.

Some of the passengers, most of whom were traders and business owners, told Newsmen that since the train services commenced, they hardly plied the Lagos Expressway again to reduce their travel time.

Commenting, Mrs Tina Adeyemo, said she preferred to use train to travel for her shopping in Lagos.

“Before now, when I travel to Lagos to buy goods, the earliest time I return was 8:00 p.m., sometimes when the traffic was heavy, we can get to Abeokuta around midnight.

“I wish to commend the train services because right now, I leave with the 9 a.m. train and come back before 6 p.m. before my husband comes back from work.

“Unlike when we were travelling by road; the traffic situation caused by the bad portions of the road or construction zones, lengthened our travel time,” she said.

Another trader, Mr Demola Fadahunsi, said he now preferred to travel by train to buses, because of its ability to carry more loads than buses or cars.

According to him, bus operators still collect more money for goods to be transported alongside his bus fare. This is not applicable to train.

“They don’t collect additional fare to carry my goods for me but these buses or car drivers will still collect money aside from the transport fare we pay per head. If you refused to pay, they will not carry you,” he said.

One of those who sell tickets, who preferred to be anonymous, said the level of patronage had been impressive and still growing daily.

He said that this had made the management to increase the number of times the train operates.

The officer, however, said Abeokuta to Lagos trip had enjoyed higher patronage as against Abeokuta to Ibadan, which was still very low.

He attributed this to the traffic situation being experienced by passengers on the Lagos-Ibadan he said expressway was higher than that of Abeokuta- Ibadan road.

He urged more residents to embrace the train service as it had proven to be faster than other means of transportation.

Reports state that the price for a 56/68 seaer coach is N3, 000 and 88 seater coach goes for N2,000, while a minor pays N1,500 for a trip from Abeokuta to Lagos.

For Abeokuta to Ibadan trip, the 56/68 seater and 88 seater coaches cost N1, 000 and N600 respectively, while a minor pays N400.

From Ilorin, Mr Alhazan Abubakar, the Station Superintendent, Nigeria Railway Service (NRC), says Nigerians are falling in love with rail transport, because it is safer, cheaper and affordable.

“There is high level of patronage. Nigerians are feeling even more comfortable with rail transport compared to other forms of transportation,” he said.

The superintendent, however, called on the Federal Government to increase the number of coaches to accommodate the growing number of passengers.

He also called for the extension of train tracks to rural areas for easy access for the locals.

“Government should help in supplying more coaches to allow more passengers and as well help us extend train tracks to remote and rural areas,” he said.

He identified poor electricity supply as a major problem affecting the smooth running of rail transport in the country.

Abubakar, therefore, called for an improved power supply in the country for smooth operations of the rail industry.

He also warned the public to desist from dumping refuse on the rails, describing the act as another challenge in the state.

Acknowledging the reasonable transport fare, he said fare from Ilorin to Kano cost N2, 000 for second class ticket, while first class cost N3, 000.

“Railway is affordable and cheap. It is N1, 600 from Ilorin to Lagos. So, it is economical and safe,” he said.

He advised the Federal Government to invest more in railway transportation to boost the nation’s economy as produce and goods from farm could also be moved to far distances.