Mass transportation for major cities

Rail transport has the capacity to ferry millions to their destinations within a reasonable time within city. Between cities it may not be the fastest. Sir transport leads the way. AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

I am not a transportation expert; but it is clear to me and indeed with anyone, even with ‘half an eye’ that any government which wants or plans or wishes to develop the cities of Lagos and Abuja without the rail transportation option is a bad daydreamer. The sheer number of people who commute daily across the two cities, particularly Lagos, makes rail transport a must. I am sure people who are familiar with the history of Lagos can explain why rail transport was not part of the deal when the city started getting pregnant with human beings. The general view is that the colonial forces were only interested in laying rail lines in areas where they needed to move goods; not to move human beings. Of course our governments should be interested in moving both goods and human beings!

Gradually, Abuja is getting overcrowded and commuting is becoming a problem, not in the Lagos class though. Bumper to bumper traffic is building up. Commuters from the outskirts who cannot afford the shylock rents in the main city have no choice but to shuttle in and out daily. They face a real problem. The journey which used to be short has now grown in time and stress. Of course the very poor and middle income earners are the greatest victims. They are not in charge of policy. So the problem is beyond them. However, in order to avert the mass revolt which we might experience in this country if we do not act fast enough, the rich and the leaders of the land must begin to develop mass-oriented programmes. This is the time to network Abuja through the rail system. This is the time to network the entire country. It would have two advantages: mass movement of people and government expenditure on public work which is a good way of pumping funds into the economy in order to generate employment. It would also have other multiplier effects on both the public and private sectors.

It is possible that all governments in the past never really took rail transport seriously. Apart from the antiquated network which we inherited from the colonial economic vampires not much has been done. The Jonathan Administration attempted some work. Before him the Obasanjo administration started something that would ferry products from Ajaokuta to Aladja and back. Although the lines are there they are not being put to use. Perhaps this is the time to ask whether fat moving trains can make use of those lines.

Rail transport has the capacity to ferry millions to their destinations within a reasonable time within city. Between cities it may not be the fastest. Sir transport leads the way. But we live in an economy in which air transport is not easily within reach. It is still priced out of the reach of the common man. Rail transport, relatively cheap wins the day. With an efficient rail system, thousands could live in Ibadan and work in Lagos. Indeed one could travel from Benin twice a week to Lagos on assignments. Farmers could move their crops or produce easily. Our roads would be spared the crushing weight of heavy duty trucks and trailers.

It seems to me very strange therefore that the two cities never really gave rail transport serious thought until recently. The rail that is being constructed from Badagry to Marina is a welcome development. It should be speeded up. I picture an extended line in the future that would land commuters in Accra or Freetown when ECOWAS becomes real. But for now the Egbeda/Oshodi/Lagos Island/ or Ikorodu/Lagos island line should be worked upon as if we were one hundred years behind time. I remember that Alhaji Lateef Jakande, action governor of Lagos, tried to introduce the light rail in Lagos in the 1980s at a cost of about one billion naira. The NPN administration made a joke of it all, trying to frustrate the programme. The idea was finally killed when the military took over. The military! Those khaki boys killed a lot of good things in their days in power. They killed federalism and the spirit of true unity. If Baba kekere had been allowed or if the government that took over continued from where Jakande stopped the Lagos story would have been different. By now we would have been thinking of improving the rail system.

I often picture a rail line built sky-high from Ikorodu running through Ketu to the Marina. I also imagine how many cars would be off the road with that singular construction. I also see the need for a fourth Mainland Bridge disappearing. I also see the number of jobs to be created by the rail service. I see a new security outfit – Lagos rail Police emerging. The same way an IPP dedicated to servicing the rail line would develop. Just calculate the multiplier effect of this development. I envision a private company or a consortium working with the Lagos State government to complete the project and operate the line for the next one hundred years.

If Lagos is interested in being the real city of excellence which it claims to be, it has to review its transportation system radically. There is no gainsaying the fact that road transportation alone cannot take Lagos to the desired level of development. The key is rail transportation. A joint venture project between the State and private investors as earlier stated will ensure that it happens. And the time is now because Lagos has been steady in terms of governance since the Tinubu administration set up the Tinubu Machine in Lagos.

Finally, the Federal Government should key into massive rail way development. If the Chinese have developed rail to move goods from China to Europe then it means there is something the developed world has seen which we are yet to embrace.

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