Sunday, December 5, 2021

Rail transport: Nigerians demand improved services – Survey

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Some Nigerians in parts of the North-Central have called for the revival of the nation’s rail transport system to ease the movement of people, goods and services to all parts of the country.

The citizens, who made the call in a survey conducted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), also urged the Federal Government to step up efforts at improving the services in the system in view of its importance to the economy.

Some of them even asked the government to extend the nation’s rail line to their respective areas to enable them to benefit from train service.

One of the stakeholders, Sunday Onyebuchi, a resident of Jos, Plateau, said reviving the railway transport would make life better for the people of the state.

Onyebuchi, who has lived in the state for the past 24 years, called on government to address what he called “the dilapidated state” of the rail transport sector across the country.

He said reviving rail transportation would boost and enable the ease of doing business in the state.

“I have been living in Plateau for over 24 years now; I have not seen the train here. I only heard that it used to come here.

“If they can revive the sector, it will aid the entire transport system because the cost of transportation by road affects movement of our goods and services.

“The traders complain of the high cost of food stuff; the farmers complain of high cost of transportation, which can all be addressed if the railway transport is revived.

“It will boost the economic activities, generate more revenue for the state and ease the stress of the citizens and affect lives positively,” he said.

Another resident of the state, Mr Nandom Dakwal, said life would be better if rail transport was revived.

“I wish there’s a physical, functional presence of railway transport in Plateau, not just the structure of Nigerian Railway Cooperation (NRC).

“Life would have become better for businesses in the state; it would ease movement of goods and services from point A to point B.

“It would ease businesses, especially because of bad roads; it would ease congestion due to traffic.

“As you can see, food prices are outrageous, fuel price is also skyrocketing, constantly.

“So, railway transportation will actually help us in easing some of the current economic problems in the state,” he said.

Also, Victor Ayagbashim, a contractor, said the railway was functional when he was a child but at some point he stopped hearing about its services in the state.

Ayagbashim said that if government could intervene in the state’s rail transport, it would help to revive businesses and make transportation easier and more effective.

The Commissioner for Transport, Alhaji Mohammad Abubakar, said although he did not have sufficient information with which to discuss the railway transport in the state, to the best of his knowledge, the rail transportation there had been moribund.

Similarly, a member of staff of the Terminus Depot of the NRC said they would not speak to the press without letter of authority, and therefore redirected NAN to their head office in Kafanchan, Kaduna State.

In Minna, Dr Bashir Yankuzo of the Department of Education Science, Federal University of Technology, called on the Federal Government to link all major cities with rail lines to enhance socio-economic growth in the country.

Yankuzo said the rail transport could be better improved if it was extended to all major cities across the country for effective transportation of people and goods.

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“The rail transport can be better improved if it is linked to all major cities across the country for smooth transportation of humans and goods

“People will prefer the rail transport because it seems safer and cheaper than road transport, especially in conveying loads and commercial activities.

“We have train service from Minna to Kaduna three times a week. The patronage is high as residents prefer rail transport due to insecurity on major highways.

“Minna to Kaduna is functioning, I also learnt that train service from Lagos to Minna, Kaduna and Kano to Maiduguri, Jos, Bauchi to Maiduguri lines may start soon,” he said.

He, however, urged the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) to reduce the train fares as it could help to reduce the prices of goods and services in the country.

“The rail transport system will boost the economy in many ways; it will increase commercial activities across regions and cities and boost job opportunities,” Yankuzo said.

In Makurdi, an employee of the Nigeria Railway Corporation, who pleaded anonymity, disclosed that trains had not gone to the city since 2015.

He told NAN in Makurdi that since 2015 no train had entered nor exited the station.

This prompted residents of the city to call on the Federal Government to give adequate attention to the Makurdi rail line as it had done to the Abuja, Kaduna, Kano, Ibadan and other rail lines.

One of them, Mrs Veronica Joseph, said that rail transportation was relatively safer and as such, the government needed to give it more attention in order to serve the people.

“This is because with the rail system, the level of rate of accident is very minimal, though rail accidents are usually fatal but they rarely occur.

“The way and manner in which our roads are taken over by criminals, is not the same with rail lines because they hardly attack trains.

“Personally, I prefer using the train to travel; unfortunately its services are not rendered here in Makurdi.

“I wonder what actually the challenge is,” Joseph said.

Similarly, Mr Simon Tyosula lamented that most people that were doing businesses at the Makurdi railway station were out of business because the trains had stopped coming.

Tyosula said that trains conveyed loads at very cheaper rates as compared to vehicles, thereby reducing the cost of goods.

“Business people usually add the cost of transportation to the cost of the goods before arriving at the prices at which they will sell and make profit.

“To me, I feel if the rail system is functional in all the zones it will go a long way in reducing the high cost of goods, which is mostly occasioned by high cost of road transportation,” he said.

Also, residents of Lafia, Nasarawa State, say they prefer railway transportation to road and air transportation because it is safer and cheaper.

Among them is Mallam Yusuf Tijjani, who said that railway transportation was safer for passengers and it adhered strictly to time schedule in transporting passengers from one location to another.

“You hardly hear of train accidents compared to the many lives lost on our roads every day. Secondly, there is no competition between trains unlike cars trying to manoeuvre to overtake each other for one reason or another.

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“Also, when you travel by train as we have seen with the Abuja to Kaduna railway route, you have a time frame when you leave and when you will arrive at your destination. So, if the time to get somewhere is two hours, it will be that two hours. No more, no less.

“So, I really prefer the railway transport because it is safer and time efficient. Though we don’t have any functioning route in the state now, I appeal to the Federal Government to construct a railway route from Abuja to Lafia and repair the abandoned one that leads to Gudi,” Tijjani said.

Another resident, Mrs Lizzy Benjamin, also said she preferred rail transport to road and air transportation because of its affordability and being comfortable.

“Railway transport is very cheap compared to what we pay for car transport. Air transport is also another good means of transportation but it’s very expensive. Aside that, trips via railway transportation are very comfortable and relaxing,” Benjamin said.

Mr Chigozie Agu, a trader, also said that his preference for railway transportation was because trains were bigger, safer and better for transporting goods from one location to another in the country.

“There is nothing like hold up; nothing like robbers stopping a moving train. The many excuses associated with road transport are not there for railway transport. If we can have a good railway network across the country, it will help in boosting commercial activities,” Agu said.

On his part, Dr Usman Majaidu, commended the Federal Government’s efforts at modernising the rail transport system in the country, noting that if well-coordinated, the exercise would help to reduce the pressure on the roads and boost the movement of goods from one region to another.

“An active and vibrant railway system confers many benefits on the society.

“We are confident that if the Federal Government connects all states with functioning railway transport, it will create up to half a million jobs and facilitate the movement of up to 3.2 million tonnes of cargo per annum.

“It will also reduce the pressure on national highways, thus reducing deterioration of the road networks and increasing the lifespan of our roads,”Majaidu said.

He also explained that railway network would support government efforts to diversify the economy and enhance our export potentials, “just as several of our cities became known as railway towns in the past, we expect to boost economic activities within the railway lines that will eventually cut across the entire country.”

He also stated further that aside boosting regional integration, the agricultural sector would receive the long-awaited boost as the railway would be a faster and convenient means of transporting farm produce from the hinterland to the city, thereby increasing the economies of the states.

“A direct benefit of this project is that containers and goods from any part of this country will now be transported by rail thereby reducing the number of trailers and other heavy duty vehicles on our roads.

“A direct consequence of this project would be less waste of productive man hours on the roads due to gridlock and bad roads due to heavy duty vehicles,” he said.

Residents of Jalingo in Taraba too, declared their preference for rail transportation ahead of other means of transportation due to the safety that characterised it.

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They, however, decried the non-availability of rail line or station in the state in spite of its huge potential in agricultural and mineral resources.

One of them is Alhaji Muhammed Abdullahi, who said that with the current security challenges facing the nation, rail transportation was safer for journeys to any part of the country.

Abdullahi explained that wherever it was available, train transportation was normally cheaper than all other means of transportation.

“Rail transportation offers the best option compared to road, water and air transportation due to security challenges facing the nation at the moment.

“A train can hardly be attacked by terrorists, while in motion unlike other means of transportation and is more affordable where it is available,” he said.

Mrs Mercy Emmanuel, another resident of Jalingo, noted that train transportation was better, especially for businessmen and women across the country.

According to Emmanuel, rail transportation is ahead of others in terms of safety, being affordable and comfortable, but lamented its non-availability in key places, including Taraba.

Malam Abubakar Suleiman too, bemoaned the non- availability of rail transportation in Taraba, saying that residents of the state would have taken the advantage of its safety and affordability.

And the people of Kogi, especially those in the Central and West Senatorial Districts, have also accepted the re-emergence of rail transport system as a better alternative mode of transportation to road in the country.

NAN checks at Adamu Attah Rail Station, Itakpe Terminal, revealed that the level of acceptance and patronage of the rail system by the people of the state is overwhelming.

According to a staff of the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) in Itakpe, Musa Kante, the system is functioning and runs different routes all-round the week, Saturdays and Sundays inclusive, with high patronage.

Kante said the high patronage could be attributed to so many factors including security and other risks inherent in road transportation.

He said time consideration was another factor as according to him, transportation by rail is faster that the roads.

On the fares, the official said, “Itakpe to Ajaokuta is N1,400; Itakpe to Itobo, N3,000 economic class, while first class is N5,500; Itakpe to Warri, N3,000 economic class and first class, N5,500.”

Also from Itakpe to Agenebode in Edo state, economic class N3,000 and first class is N5,500; Itakpe to Uromi, N1,400 economic class, N5,500 running everyday with passengers between 800 and 900 per day.

Mr Oyibo Salihu, a passenger, told NAN that the fare was “pocket-friendly” in view of the safety, security, speed and timeliness in comparison with road transportation that was fraught with uncertainties.

Salihu said that the economic situation in the country had made everybody to be prudent in managing their resources, more so that in this case, one’s security and safety was guaranteed.

He said extension of the rail services to every part of the country would improve the economy and increase the lifespan of Nigerian roads which he described as overstretched.

Another passenger, Sadiq Ovansa, said the rail system, if maintained and sustained, would take care of haulage of heavy duty cargoes from Nigerian ports to the hinterland.

He said this would aside from generating revenue and boosting employment, bring a big relief to road users as the roads would be less prone to carnage frequently caused by heavy trucks playing the roads.

NAN

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