The ongoing standard gauge rail line extension project is the major arm of a holistic measure to permanently decongest the busiest port in the country.
The Managing Director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Fidet Okhiria, disclosed the December deadline in response to stakeholders’ calls for proper integration of rails to ports nationwide.
Okhiria told The Guardian at the recent West African Port and Rail Evolution Forum (WA-PoRa) in Lagos that efforts were on to link rail network to ports across the country to take the pressure off the highways, beginning with Lagos.
Recall that the perennial gridlock of trucks and trailers that escalated early 2018 has practically outsmart all executive fiat, but with the hope that an improvement in road networks and rail tracks extension will do some magic.
Besides the ongoing road rehabilitation at the Creek, Burma and Apapa-Oshodi expressway sections of the corridor, the Presidential Task Force on Apapa Gridlock is already in place to manage free-flow of traffic inwards the port area.
Okhiria said right now, serious work is ongoing on the rail line, and the Lagos State government is supporting the progress of the construction.
“They are making the right of way available. If you go to the railway compound, you will see that they have started the drainages and already trying to create that link to Apapa.
“It is going to be a modern rail system and it will be in such a way that we will have train-to-train communication. No train will run into another because the drivers will be able to talk to one another. By the time we finish, we should be able to move out of the port every 10 minutes,” he said.
The MD explained that the rail track extension means massive cargo movement from the port, with 30 wagons to be deployed to ferry 20 to 30 containers each directly from the port daily.
“They will be linked to the seaside so that you can offload directly from the ship to the wagons. By December, 2019, we should get to the ports.
“We are making tremendous progress. As we speak, we can comfortably be on a train from Iju to Ibadan terminal. We have not started operating at the station yet because we want the station to be developed, which they are building and by October or November, 2019, the stations will be in good condition,” he said.
Concerned stakeholders had earlier called for the integration of rail network to ports to aid free movement of goods nationwide.
Portfolio Director of transport for DMG events, Daniel Block, said there is no quantifying the gains that await more dependence on rail for goods at the port.
“The traffic in Lagos is much and the roads are not in great conditions. The bridges are unstable. So, if the rail system is created or upgraded to take cargo from the ports into the rest of the city and into neighbouring states, and so on, it will free up the roads.
“All those trucks sitting on the roads don’t need to be there. If there can be a parking lot for the trucks and if there is a rail system, to take all the containers from the port into the rest of the country, it means the roads will be freed up. If you upgrade your systems, it will impact the rest of the city and force the rest of the city to upgrade its roads, there will be more hotels and businesses,” Block said.
Belgian Ambassador to Nigeria, Daniel Dargent, added that Belgium is ready to assist Nigeria and West Africa in general, in the area of expertise to develop connectivity in the railways and ports.
“Connectivity is important. You need to transfer your goods and passengers in good time. If you produce agricultural products in the northern part of Nigeria, and you cannot transport them by road or rail to the port to export them, then you lose a lot.
“Nigeria is a large country with over 200million inhabitants or even more. So, we need to organise the exchange of goods and if you don’t have the connectivity, everything will be damaged. Apart from agricultural products, we have industrial products; and this connectivity is key for development,” Dargent said.
Group Managing Director of Grolla Port Services, the exclusive DMG partner for WA-PoRa, Graham Lawal, said besides the infrastructure development, the government must also encourage private investors to invest heavily in rail networks in Nigeria and West Africa.
Lawal said the big businesses are still being done by the governments, and until private sector can put down $1.5 billion for new rail networks across Africa, then government will not stop relying on foreign loans to enhance the infrastructure.