In 1898, the first railway in Nigeria was opened between Lagos and Abeokuta, a distance of 96km with a choosing gauge of 3ft 6in (1067mm), and this gauge was used for subsequent expansion. Still, up until 2012 Nigeria’s rail system consisted of 3,505 km of 3 ft. 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge lines and 479 km of standard gauge lines. The speed for standard gauge in Nigeria is 120km/hr, the speed for narrow gauge is 100km/hr. Today, works are underway to develop the Cape gauge network as well as construct a new standard gauge network that can help transportation through this means to be suitable, while rehabilitation of existing lines is ongoing.
Transportation involves the movement of people, goods, services and information by specific modes, some of which are roads, railways, airlines, and shipping lines. Inadequate transport infrastructure has long been a big hindrance to economic development in Nigeria. The railway is a viable alternative it offers to road transport.
The challenges of public transport provision, which have been compounded by trend of urban sprawl, have not been appreciably addressed at the tier of policy while some of the issues addressed in the policy document have not been enforced.
The Nigerian Railway Corporation was to manage and operate the railway undertakings and provide all necessary facilities for carriage of passengers and goods. The social duties of the corporation seem to out weight the economic. This is due to many unprofitable services especially passengers’ services it renders to the society. In any case, the passengers’ services have been very important as a social service in the operations of the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
Subsequently, the virtual collapse in recent decades of the colonial-built railway network, the government has ambitious plans to revamp it. Withal, it has only limited funds and expertise to achieve this itself. As a result, it has attempted to bring in the requisite funding and skills, often from abroad.
Railway construction timeline
- New standard (1435mm) gauge line opened to connect iron ore workings in the Itakpe area with steel works at Ajaokuta. The line was extended to Warri in 2013, a total distance of 327km. Passenger traffic on the line commenced in 2019.
- Construction began on a new 181km standard gauge line from Lagos to Ibadan. Trial services commenced in early 2020, although about 25km of line and several intermediate stations have yet to be completed.
- A new 186km standard gauge line from Abuja to Kaduna was completed. Freight services commenced the following year, passenger services from May, 2016.
- A contract was signed for the construction of a new standard gauge railway serving the coastal area between Lagos and Calabar.
- A contract was signed for the construction of a 334km commuter rail network in Ogun state, north of Lagos. The first line would run from Abeokuta to Ijebu Ode.
- Funding was approved for a new 305km standard gauge line from Kaduna to Kano; plans were announced for a new 275km line linking the steel works at Ajaokuta with the Agbaja Iron Ore Project in Kogi State.
- A light rail transit system opened in Abuja in 2018. Similar systems are under construction or proposed in various cities. A number of monorail systems have been proposed but only that at Calabar appears to be progressing at the present time.
- A contract was signed for a new 200km standard gauge railway from Abuja linking with the existing line to Warri at Itakpe. The project also includes a 50km branch to Lokoja and and extension from the existing terminus at Warri to the port.
- Funding was approved for a new 248km standard gauge line from Kano to Maradi, Niger. Also in 2020, contracts were let for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the 1067mm gauge Port Harcourt – Maiduguri line. The work will include several new branches and an interchange with the standard gauge network at Kafanchan.
- The $1.96 billion project was approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in September 2020, the Kano – Dutse – Jibia (Katsina State) – Maradi 284 Km rail project connecting Kano in Nigeria to Maradi in Niger Republic.
- The 1435 mm gauge north-south railway linking Itakpe, Ajaokuta and Warri was formally opened for commercial operation, following an inauguration ceremony at Agbor in Delta state.
- In December, experimental operations were conducted with passengers on board. The train covered the 156km journey between Ibadan and Lagos in 2 hours and 40 minutes. China with Abuja providing counterpart funding of $1.5bn for the project.
- Nigeria’s government sought to construct a railway line between Nigeria and neighbouring Niger. The contract, which will link the northern Nigerian city of Kano with Niger’s Maradi, is projected to be worth almost $2 billion, according to a budget approved by Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council in 2020.
The rail transportation data for Q2 2018 reflected that a total of 730,289 passengers travelled via the rail system in Q2 2018 as against 748,345 passenger recorded in Q1 2018 and 596,792 in Q2 2017 respectively, representing 22.37% growth YoY and -2.41% growth QoQ. Similarly, a total of 85,816 tons of volume of goods/cargo travelled via the rail system in Q2 2018 as against 79,750 recorded in Q1 2018 and 18,212 in Q2 2017 respectively, representing 371.21% growth YoY and 7.61% growth QoQ. Revenue generated from passengers in Q2 2018 was put at N435,965,777 as against N413,057,019 in Q1 2018. Similarly, revenue generated from goods/cargo in Q2 2018 was put at N159,079,963 as against N151,279,394 in Q1 2018, according to National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria.
As rails provide a viable alternative to road transportation as it connects one city to another, it also enhances and stimulate agricultural and manufacturing activities in the country. The Nigerian governments have upgraded and modernized some of the country’s rail infrastructure.
The Enterprise Resource Programme (ERP) was installed to promote efficiency and the upgrade and modernisation of the antiquated communication and signalling system of the entire rail system. While introduction of the Transport Sector Reform Bill, which includes the Nigerian Railways Authority (NRA) Bill, designed to open up the sector for the first time, to private sector participation.
More recently, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi indicate that the rail line is favourable to Nigeria as it will help the country to compete favourably with other coastal countries in West Africa to service its landlocked neighbours in the movement of cargoes and will make the Lagos seaports more viable.