PRESIDENT-elect General Muhammadu Buhari has hosted a delegation from the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) who paid him a visit to present a prototype of its new high speed rail project. In what could be an indication that a Buhari administration may be looking to develop a high-speed rail network across Nigeria, the president-elect was updated on how the project would work. Receiving the Chinese delegation along with the All Progressives Congress chairman Chief John Oyegun, General Buhari was also shown literature about the project.
Early last year, the current government of President Goodluck Jonathan got Nigeria’s comatose railway network on its feet with a N24bn ($151.7m) investment programme that involved the upgrading of tracks and signalling equipment. With the purchase of 25 GE locomotives and renovation of 500 wagons and passenger coaches, services recommenced on the 1,126km Lagos to Kano line that had been shut for the last 10 years.
However, the revived railway network remains antiquated and the government planned to upgrade the entire network, which is still running on the narrow gauge tracks laid down by the British colonial government when they launched the service in 1912. Currently, Nigeria has only two major rail lines, with one connecting Lagos to Yobe and the other connecting Port Harcourt to Maiduguri.
Over N100bn has been expended as budgetary allocations to the rail transport sector alone over the last four years and the project is yet to be completed. Pledges by successive administrations in the past to revive the rail transport system have failed to yield enduring results as proposed new tracks have never been completed, while the rehabilitation of tracks and coaches has become something of a yearly ritual.
Across Africa, countries like Algeria, Morocco and South Africa are all moving towards building high-speed railway networks based on Japanese and Chinese models. Nigeria is yet to sign up to this sophisticated technology yet and it is not yet clear if General Buhari will bite the bullet and decide on a total overhaul of the current network.
South Africa’s 80km Gautrain Rapid Rail Link began running in 2010, linking Gauteng the country’s most economically important and most densely populated province with the rest of the country. Gauteng is the heart of the South African economy, creating one-third of its gross domestic product and is home to around 10m people or one-fifth of the population.
It also includes the country’s largest city Johannesburg and its administrative capital Pretoria, as well as the OR Tambo International Airport, the busiest in Africa. By providing the province’s large population with a high-speed transit link that can run as fast as 160km an hour, the government expects the Gautrain to stimulate economic growth.
Apart from other things, it is expected to lead t job creation by improving commuter mobility and also reduce traffic and carbon emissions on congested highways. With more congested roads and a higher number of car accidents a year, Nigeria desperately needs to move traffic off its roads and on to rail.