Thus, the railway system can take its rightful place in the transportation sector in the country if only it is given top priority by the government and possibly also, via introduction of genuine private initiatives. Problems of poor management, underfunding, inconsistent policy, political interference and instability, and inflexible bureaucracy that have plagued the sector for decades must become things of the past.
A couple of days ago, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi while inspecting the Abuja-Kaduna rail stations, dismissed several officials of the Railway Corporation. Among those dismissed were station managers, porters, and ticket officials at both the Idu and Rigasa rail stations in Abuja and Kaduna respectively, over ticket racketeering.
It saddens me that they were dismissed since I alluded to ticket racketeering of VIP tickets at the stations in one of my recent articles. Nonetheless, the Minister rightly stated that sacking of the culpable officials would put a stop to workers nonchalant attitude towards work and stop ticket racketeering in the stations. However, it must also be pointed out this is not the only solution to the myriad of problems currently plaguing the Abuja-Kaduna train service.
The railway is one of the oldest, effective and efficient means for transporting passengers and cargoes worldwide. The crucial role the railway system plays in the socio-economic development of any country, through the mass movement of goods and commuters cannot be overemphasized. The railway in Nigeria for many decades, suffered severe neglect attributed to poor funding by successive governments and massive corruption.
Thus for decades, Nigerians had dreamt of a crisp transport system, built around the railway technology like what is obtainable in developed climes for mass movement. This dream began coming to fruition when in 2016 President Muhammadu Buhari marked the commencement of full commercial operations of the rail project connecting Idu, Abuja to the Rigasa community in Kaduna.
After more than a year of its commencement, the Abuja-Kaduna rail service has recorded great strides it must be said. Testimonies have been abounding of the advantages of the service and kudos should be given to present administration for making the service a reality and not just paying lip-service to it. It must also be said however, that the service has been plagued by several hiccups, derailing its laudable scorecard since its commencement.
A perusal of the rail service since its commencement reveals that the train takes about 320 passengers on each trip to Kaduna and back with 56 business class seats at N900 while the remaining 264 economy seats sells at N700 each. This translates to over 60,000 passengers per month even as the train runs for six of the seven days of the week. Thus, the service roughly generates over N5.6 million income per month.
One of the major hiccups recorded so far by the Abuja-Kaduna rail system is the issue of “carrying-capacity”. The rail system presently has about four coaches which cannot serve the growing numbers of passengers wishing to join the train at both the Abuja and Kaduna terminus on a daily basis. More often than not, passengers have no choice than to stand throughout the journey to Kaduna or Abuja.
Many passengers have been complaining about over-loading which has been a major bane and source of discomfort to passengers especially those travelling on economy seats. This overloading not only makes passengers uncomfortable, it also overstretches the load capacity of the minimal coaches, which inevitably leads to quick depreciation of the trains and ultimately, waste of public resources.
Government should strengthen the system by immediately ensuring that more coaches are provided to meet up with the ever-increasing passengers hoping to commute between Abuja and Kaduna by rail. The railway management should also ensure that ticket sales are stopped as soon as the seats on board the trains have been exhausted.
In addition, the government needs to increase the frequency of the trains. Currently, the railway system schedule runs just two trips a day. If there were more coaches, the frequency of the train will be increased enabling the train to leave Abuja for Kaduna or vice versa ideally, on an hourly basis.
This in turn would afford passengers to leave Kaduna for instance, conduct his/her business in the nation’s capital and return back to Kaduna the same day. Thus increasing the frequency and capacity of the trains would go a long way in meeting up with the demands of passengers and effectiveness of the rail service.
Another hiccup plaguing the rail service is the issue of the speed of the train. The train’s round-trip is low and speed slow. Currently, the train runs at a speed of about 90km per hour. This is poor compared to what is obtainable in other climes offering efficient railway services. Also, since the core mandate of the Abuja-Kaduna rail system is to afford the working public an opportunity to come into Abuja in one hour and a half, do their work or business and return to Kaduna, the current speed of the train frustrates such mandate.
Locomotives such as the ones in Kenya that can possibly run between 120 – 150 km per hour and more would be ideal to fulfill this mandate. The government needs to begin looking into this and bringing in trains that meet up to such speed levels. Many of us have been to other climes commuted via train with literally lightning speed. These are the kind of trains the government and management of the railway system needs to look into and replicate here.
Security is also a major challenge facing the Abuja-Kaduna rail system. The railway management needs to adopt adequate and put in place effective security measures to ensure the safety of passengers on board the trains. More security personnel in the form of “railway police” need to be provided that rides with the train and make sure the train and passengers are safe. Technology such as the use of camera and other security devices/gadgets can also be adopted in securing passengers like what is obtainable in other rail security conscious climes.
In another approach, government should also look into public-private partnership approach in ensuring the effectiveness of our railways system. Railway administration in developed climes like Japan, France, and Canada, adopts strategies such as public–private partnerships, and build–operate–transfer (BOT) arrangements, in an attempt to enhance railway safety, punctuality, and reliability.
In many of these countries, government policy in respect to rail transport innovation and development are fairly consistent and largely limited to policymaking and execution. Meanwhile, the railway infrastructure and provision of services are largely left in the hands of private enterprises. This approach has generally enhanced efficiency, punctuality, and reliability in these countries.
By comparison, governments in developing countries like Nigeria are still grappling with the old concepts of government as the sole railway operator and owner supplying all rail infrastructure and services. This approach is in strong contradiction to the fact that successive governments have rarely excelled in business ventures, due to an overburdening bureaucratic approach to most issues and pervasive corruption.
To be continued next week