FOR more than two months, Felix Okoye, an accountant at the Federal Medical Centre in Nigeria’s southern city of Abeokuta has ditched his car when traveling every week to Lagos, the country’s economic hub and most populous city, where his family resides.
Okoye, who recently boarded a train heading toward Abeokuta at the brand new Mobolaji Johnson Station in Lagos, said during the trip that he ditched his car because he now has a veritable alternative means of transportation, which affords him the opportunity to conveniently crisscross the two cities every week.
In June, the Chinese-built Lagos-Ibadan railway linking the southwestern cities of Lagos, Abeokuta, and Ibadan, officially started full commercial operation to ease public transportation and fuel goods movement in the country. The project is the first double-track standard-gauge railway to be built in West Africa.
The construction of the 157-km Lagos-Ibadan railway, and an extension of about 7 km to a busy port in Lagos, was described as ‘another milestone in the drive to revitalise the railway system in Nigeria’ by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the official flag-off ceremony for the full commercial operation on June 10.
Buhari said the commencement of full operations of the rail line, constructed by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), will also establish the railway in Nigeria ‘as a choice of transportation for both passengers and freight.’
Okoye travels every Monday from his home in Lagos to his place of work in Abeokuta, using the ‘relatively affordable, safe, and comfortable’ train, and returns home after work every Friday to spend the weekend with his family.
‘It has been very wonderful using this train,’ the accountant said inside one of the new, modest coaches where he sat with a colleague who was riding on the train for the first time.
‘Going on the road for hours is stressful with holdups,’ said Okoye.
Typically, traveling by road to Abeokuta from some parts of Lagos lasts about five hours or more due to traffic snarls or squalid state of the roads, among other factors.
But using the train, Okoye said he is impressed with the service.
Adeyinka Oladipupo, a civil servant, said he has been following the development of the newly constructed railway from inception, up to the partial operations which began last December. Now, it is fully functional.
‘I have always been looking forward to seeing how it looks like, and what it will be like having a (modern) train in Nigeria moving from one location to the other,’ said Oladipupo, who was traveling with his wife and a baby from the coastal city of Lagos to Ibadan, one of the country’s populous cities.
In the past, he said, it was usually stressful for him to travel between the two cities with his family by road, or using the old-model locomotive on the narrow gauge rail.
“’The old train was messy. Sometimes, I have to stand in the kitchen cabinet all through the journey. It wasn’t a very good experience for me,’ he said.
Inside the train, a calm female voice welcomes the passengers, reminding them of the dos and don’ts of the two-and-a-half-hour journey to Ibadan, the train’s final destination.
The Lagos-Ibadan train has the capacity to travel at 150 km per hour. Its air-conditioned coaches are outfitted with three overhead television screens. The toilets are clean and well-equipped. The window seats have electric sockets and USB charging ports. Also worthy of mention is the attentive crew.
It has three standard class, business class and the executive class. Also, there are nurses on board, in case of emergencies.
The Lagos-Ibadan railway has a great economic prospect, said Jerry Oche, the Lagos railway district manager of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC).
Citing the surge in the number of passengers, which has risen to 600 per day within one month of full operations, Oche said the Lagos-Ibadan corridor indeed opens a new vista of opportunities.
‘The passenger volume is increasing on a daily basis,’ the railway manager noted.
For now, the freight operation on that corridor of the railway service is temporarily unavailable, due to a technical glitch. Once solved, however, the rail operation will extend fully to the busy Lagos port in Apapa, where Nigeria has a major container handling terminal.
The railway, he noted, will be of immense benefit to the Nigerians, as it aims to reduce the cost of transportation, and create opportunities for more businesses and jobs.
‘The standard gauge (railway) from the port to Ibadan was supposed to have an Island container depot in Ibadan. The idea would be for us to take things from the port (in Lagos) to Ibadan where people from the north can just come to take their goods,’ the NRC official said.
Oche also looks forward to a time when Nigeria will serve as a regional hub based on the government’s plan to be able to produce coaches and locomotives locally with Chinese support.
The Lagos-Ibadan railway is a segment of the Lagos-Kano standard gauge railway under construction in Nigeria