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Abuja N296bn light rail project wasting away

Trains running without passengers

Abuja light rail service inaugurated by President Muhammudu Buhari in July 2018 is fast becoming a white elephant as the management of the Federal Capital Territory Administration currently runs the train two times a day to the airport from the metro station in Central Business District of Abuja without passengers,

Sunday Tribune took a ride on the train from the metro station at the Central Business District on a 2:30 pm shuttle to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport and returned through the 4:20 pm evening schedule observed that the stations were practically empty as the 390-capacity train conveyed seven persons from the city centre to Idu station with only two of them eventually alighting at the airport. On the return trip, 14 passengers boarded from the airport to Idu and five  from Idu to metro station.

One of the passengers who gave her name as Mary told Sunday Tribune that the service had been experiencing low patronage since the expiration of the free services period.

“When government commenced Abuja train service, it was free; so people were even standing on some occasions from the airport to Idu station,” she said, adding that the slow speed of the train made the service unattractive as it takes much longer than a car to reach the airport.

“Even me can run and pass this thing” she joked in Pidgin English.

Another passenger, Bunyamba Lawan, said the train service had a problem of timing. “If the train is leaving town before 6:00 am, a lot of people who have flights to catch at the airport around 6:30 am would have seen it as ideal to board the train to catch up with their flights,” he stated, explaining why the coaches seem empty during day time.

Lawan also complained that the fare had made the service unattractive. “The fare is unattractive. From the metro station to the airport for N1000? It is too high; it shouldn’t have been more than N500. Why would a ride from metro station to the airport cost N1000 when Abuja to Kaduna is N1,200?

“If I was driving from the metro station to the airport, it won’t take me more than 20 minutes; so why should I waste my time coming to the train station when again I will have to wait for hours,” the passenger said.

Another passenger, who simply gave her name as Josephine, said she was on board just to have the train experience. She said no investor would tie down its investment without doing something about it. She was of the opinion that “this government is supposed to bring down the fare in order to attract passengers. As a matter of urgency, (the management of the train) service should reduce the price and increase the speed,” she advised.

China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) funded the rail project with $157 million, being 85 per cent of the total sum of the project while the Federal Government was to contribute $37 million, being 15 per cent of the project’s total cost.

Abuja light rail service has a total of 12 stations, six stations for Lot1 and three stations for Lot3 being the phases already completed out of the over five phases of the total city rail project.

Sunday Tribune spoke with a member of staff of Abuja train service who pleaded not to be named, she explained that the train service was experiencing low patronage because the current timing of the train did not favour passengers particularly from the airport.

“We don’t have any morning train here at the airport going to town. When people come into the airport in the morning and they are going to town, we don’t run the train in the morning and passengers can’t wait till afternoon when we run our first trip to town. They can’t use the train to catch up with Kaduna train in the morning, so all these have contributed to making the service unattractive,” she said.

The staff member disclosed that the service was expecting new coaches, explaining that “when they arrive, they will be able to cover the gap and meet up with passengers at any time especially during rush hours. The work here is not for just one train.”

Immediate past Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mohammed Bello, promised late in 2018 that the ministry was expecting delivery of more coaches. However, they were yet to arrive as of last week.

Bello said “the implementation of the project had been divided into phases with Phase 1 inaugurated by the president. The FCT administration had concluded an infrastructure soft loan agreement with Exim Bank of China for the supply of the remaining coaches, including their maintenance for three years at a cost of $104 million. The bank would fund the project up to $157 million or 85 per cent of the total cost, while FCTA would bring in a counterpart fund of $37 million which is 15 per cent of the contract sum.”

Abuja light rail project was awarded to CCECC Nigeria Limited on May 23, 2007, but work started two years later. The revised contract sum was $823,540,545.87 for the double track rail line. Though the original date of completion was May 28, 2011, the contract was revised again on August 24, 2014 with the completion date slated for December 31, 2017.

Lots 1A and 3 comprise 1,435km gauge, 12 stations, 50 culverts 13 railway bridges, 25 flyover bridges, rolling stock depot comprises 21 buildings, namely: operation control centre, training centre, maintenance crew staff quarters, comprehensive maintenance building, oil pump room, waste water treatment room, and deep well pump room. The segments, which were inaugurated, were Lots 1A and 3, which cover only 45.245 km. This shows that only 16 per cent of the rail network has been covered.

The present administration said it met the project at about 80 per cent completed and completed it within six months. For the next phase of the project, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved $1.3 billion for the construction of a standard gauge line, which would cover 32.54km from Nnamdi Azikiwe highway (Garki Area l) – Gwagwa – Gbazango Station to Kubwa.