In many parts of the world, transportation of cargo by rail is a common phenomenon. From the seaports, cargoes are ferried to dry ports by rail for onward distribution to their intended destinations.
Experts have argued that rail transportation is usually better than road transportation. An online article in PartnerShip says that rail transport is more cost-effective, noting that between 10 and 40 per cent of the cost of transportation by road can be saved with rail transport. The fuel costs are also low.
In Nigeria, this has not always been the case. The daily spectacle on major roads is usually a long line of container-bearing articulated vehicles clogging the highways while crawling laboriously to and from the Lagos ports. Most major roads in Nigeria have become dilapidated as a result of the burden placed on them by the trucks.
But the situation is about changing. The Federal Government, it was gathered, recently began cargo delivery service from the Kaduna Inland Dry Port to Lagos seaports, amid jubilation from industry stakeholders.
It is a move that will bring about tremendous benefits to government, importers, exporters and commuters, as the roads would get some succour.
Shipping by train is considered more environment-friendly, as trains burn less fuel than trucks. The Association of American Railroads (AAR) says that trains can move one tonne of freight an average of 479 miles on a single gallon of fuel. It has also been argued that using rail transport over road transport can lower greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent.
And in terms of hauling large loads, trains are much more effective than road transport. A double-stacked train car, it is said, would hold approximately the same amount as 280 trucks.
Trains are more reliable; railways have standardised transit schedules and do not share their tracks with the public, unlike trucks. Trains are also not hindered by traffic.
As a result of these, rail transportation is the preferred means of freighting goods in many countries in North America, Europe and Asia.
In the United States, 40 per cent of goods are moved by rail. Movement of goods by rail is also popular in countries like Russia, China and Japan. Some countries have even advanced to high-speed trains for both passenger and cargo traffic, all in a bid to give their longsuffering roads some succour.
In Nigeria, rail transportation has never been an encouraging venture, even though rail construction by the British government started in the country as far back as March 1896. In all, the country can boast of only 3,505 kilometres of rail network. South Africa, on the other hand, has 36,000km. By 2013, the only functional segment of the rail network in Nigeria was between Lagos and Kano, a laborious, punishing journey in which passenger trains took 31 hours to complete the journey at an average speed of 45km per hour!
Successive governments after Independence claimed to have poured billions of naira into expansion of the rail system, but little result was achieved.
The immediate past administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan commenced some moves to revamp the rail system. The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has also been praised for not just continuing where Jonathan stopped, but also for its efforts to actualise a massive turnaround in the rail sector.
The recent movement of cargo from the Kaduna Inland Dry Port to Lagos seaports has been cited as one of such accomplishments.
Besides reducing the cost of delivery by 50 per cent, compared to road, the new rail service is expected to create 24,000 direct jobs within and around the dry port.
At the kick-off of the project last year, Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, said the dry port project was part of measures introduced by the Federal Government to decongest seaports.
Represented at the event by the director of maritime services, Sani Galandanci, Amaechi said the service would address the loss of cargo in transit, stop carnage and accidents on the road, reduce transport cost and bring shipping services closer to shippers, which would stimulate economic development.
Commending the initiative, Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, said the cargo service would decongest the seaports as well as boost his state’s internally-generated revenue. He expressed confidence that the project would also open a new vista of commercial opportunities for northern businessmen and even neighbouring countries. He said he would send a trade delegation to Niger Republic in an effort to woo Nigerien businessmen to use the Kaduna dry port.
Said he: “The commencement has confirmed that our inland dry port is functioning and you can ship your goods direct from Kaduna to any part of the world and you can also import goods from any part of the world direct to Kaduna without your containers or any of your goods being opened up for inspection in Lagos. It has opened a new vista of commercial opportunities not only for northern businessmen but even for neighbouring countries.
“The economic benefit of the port cannot be understated. The optimal operations of an inland dry port will impact tremendously on agro-business, stimulate industrialisation and production, thereby increasing our internally-generated revenue. It will create jobs for our young people. It will expand business opportunities and also lower the cost of doing business for our businessmen here in Nigeria as well as lower the cost of agricultural products in southern Nigeria.”
Hassan Bello, executive secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council, said the cargo service would address the challenges faced by the importers and exporters and guarantee seamless movement of cargo from the seaports to the dry port in Kaduna. He stated that efforts were being taken to attract investors to Kaduna.
“We are in preliminary discussion with Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council in London and we want to bring them to Kaduna so that they can have a look, so that they will know what value they can add to the dry port.
“It is important that the dry port is not just a transportation centre but a hub of economic activities. We need to have so many facilities, like stores, refrigerated warehouses, consolidation centres, factories, especially for packaging, which is a problem for export,” he said.
It was gathered also that President Buhari has directed that the seaports in the country be connected by rail for improved evacuation of cargoes to the hinterland.
Similarly, efforts are on to bring rail tracks to the Lagos seaports, in the words of the managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, government has awarded the contract for the construction of rail tracks inside the port.
Usman also stated that the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the Nigerian Railway Corporation engaged the contractor as part of efforts by the Federal Government to end the perennial gridlock on Apapa roads.
“It is evident that, as a port, you cannot have all your cargoes evacuated by road. What we intend to do this year is to deploy the necessary rail connection to the port. As you can see, there is an on-going work in the Apapa/Tin-Can area by the contractor engaged by the Federal Ministry of Transportation.
“They have demolished some warehouses and they are about to start to lay the tracks for the rail.
“We are keen to have the project concluded and that is why we have identified areas where we would require access to the terminals. The Federal Ministry of Transportation has provided the necessary compensation for those locations that are going to be used for the rail tracks,” she said.
The NPA boss said government was committed to reducing the gridlock on Apapa roads and boost evacuation of cargoes from the ports.
Stakeholders have lauded the commitment of the present administration to rail reforms. Last year, the Nigerian government invited the China Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC) to build a cargo assembly plant in Kajola, Ogun State. The project was inaugurated by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on November 11.
Osinbajo, at the event, described the plant as an important project for the production of rolling stocks, spare parts and maintenance equipment needed for the railway modernisation programme being undertaken by the Buhari administration.
“This ceremony is not just another event, it is historic for a President for whom the railway modernisation is a passion. He sees the railway as not just an alternative and comfortable mode of travel, it holds the master key to transforming commerce in Nigeria and across the continent. By linking our ports to the rail line and now building a rolling stock locally, import and export within and out of Africa’s largest market will be completely transformed,” Osinbajo said.
Amaechi expressed delight that the plant would service the wagon needs of the various railway systems being executed by the Federal Government, including the Itakpe-Warri-Ajaokuta railway, the Lagos-Calabar coastline rail project and the eastern line rail project. It will also boost the local content development of the economy by the government, he noted.
“This would be the first of its kind in Nigeria, and the first batch of wagons to be used on the completion of this Lagos-Ibadan rail project is expected to be produced from this plant,” the minister said. He described the plant as one of the gains of the contract for the building of the standard gauge in Nigeria.
Amaechi enthused that, besides generating about 5,000 jobs and reducing the huge unemployment burden in the country, the Kajola facility would help in transferring rolling stock technology to Nigerian youths.
He also disclosed that, from the Kajola plant, Nigeria would soon start exporting wagons and expertise to other African countries, thereby conserving foreign exchange.
According to the minister, the plant would meet localised production of wagons, which would be deployed to the modernised tracks. He explained that the vision of his ministry was the development of a robust local capacity to construct, sustain and maintain the new railway system.
Amaechi poured accolades on President Buhari for his determination to ensure that the country has a good, working rail system. He was also convinced that the rail system would end the gridlock at the Apapa ports. Said he: “Initially, the rail system was to stop at Ebute Meta. But we said the rail system always ends at the seaport. That was why we awarded a contract to the seaports – Apapa Port, Port Harcourt Port, Warri Port, Calabar Port and Onne Port.”
He said the containers on articulated vehicles that clog Lagos roads should ordinarily be put on the rail tracks for onward transportation to Ibadan, and from there to other parts of the country. He added that once such cargoes are transported by rail, the pressure on roads would stop and the roads would be back to normal.