More than three decades after the commencement of construction on a 276-kilometre standard gauge rail line linking Warri in Delta State to Ajaokuta, Kogi State, train operation will begin on the route in two weeks, the Managing Director, Nigerian Railway Corporation, Mr Fidet Okheria, has said.
Okheria, who spoke at a press briefing in Lagos, said it was heart-warming that the standard gauge rail line would finally come alive as part of efforts of the Federal Government to deliver functional and modern rail sytem.
He, however, said that the new train would run while the rebuilding of the vandalised railway stations along the route and signalling system would be ongoing.
Okheria said this was to avert fresh vandalising of railway equipment in the area by hoodlums who took advantage of the prolonged abandonment to wreck havoc on the facilities initially erected there.
“In two weeks’ time, we want to ride on the train from Itakpe-Ajaokuta to Warri. This will enable us to assess what they have done and to know when the full operation will be inaugurated,” he said.
The NRC MD expected that the line would be fully opened to members of the public for use by August.
The Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, while inspecting the project in Warri last year hinted that the new rail line would start operation at the end of the second quarter this year.
He said that the Federal Government had included it in the budget, adding, “There are two phases of the contracts; the first one was awarded in 1987. We have a directive from the Federal Government that we must complete the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line and it was put in this year budget.
“By the end of December last year, we had disbursed some money to the contractors; Julius Berger and others to commence work, so we have come to see how far.”
The minister also said, “We are constructing bridges too in order to reduce contact with humans beings who would try to cross the track because this is a speed lane and once it starts, it is going to be 120 to 150km per hour because it is a standard gauge.
“If this contract was completed within the time it was awarded, Nigeria would have been the first country in Africa to have a standard gauge line.”
The project, otherwise called the central railway line, was initially planned to be delivered in five years, but was stalled for decades due to paucity of funds.
The rail line from Warri, passing through Itakpe, Ajaokuta, Agbor and Ore, with six stations along the route, was conceived to carry steel products and raw materials from the Delta Steel Company, Aladja, but was abandoned after about 254 kilometres had been done.
The project was reactivated in 2009 with the Federal Government agreeing to pay N33bn for the design and completion of the remaining 22 kilometres.
The contract was awarded to Team Nigeria and Julius Berger, and was meant to be delivered in March 2013. The contract sum also covered the sidings of the Ajaokuta-Warri rail line up to Delta Steel Aladja, and construction of six stations with the rehabilitation of the completed portion of the line. Again no provision was reportedly made this in that year’s budget.
Okhria also said track engineers from the General Electric would be in Nigeria next week to begin the execution of the interim framework contract for nation’s narrow gauge rail track rehabilitation and management.
He said, “We have an arrangement where the consortium will come in with their track engineering experts and work with our men. Our men will be working with them during this period so that there will also be transfer of knowledge. We are trying to get serious and committed people within us to work with them in our workshop while they are here.”
He said that the company would provide 200 new wagons and 10 locomotives to improve the operation of the narrow gauge lines.
He said, “The GE will come and fix 10 out of the 25 locomotives that are not working that we have. We hope that during the process of closing at the final concession, all this would make the Nigerian trains move better, more reliable and meet up with its responsibility. That is why we have the interim phase. We are planning it so that we have a win-win situation for Nigeria and Nigerians as well as the consortium.”