The freight train haulage

The freight train haulage

The movement of cargoes on the single-gauge rail from the Apapa Ports to Ibadan reportedly took-off on September 5. The Minister of Transportation, Senator Saidu Alkali, further disclosed that the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) would subsequently begin the freight haulage on the narrow gauge to Kano in the next three months.

The movement of cargoes from the Apapa Ports to Ibadan will decongest the ports as well as the access roads to the ports. Apart from decongesting the ports, it will also boost inter-modal system of transportation in the country. The railway line, with an extension to the Apapa Ports in Lagos, has been largely under-utilized. Ensuring that the coaches are clean will enhance patronage.

The clamour for different modes of cargo evacuation out of the Lagos ports to lessen the burden on road transportation has been on for many years. About two years ago, cargo evacuation through barge operations began from Lagos to the Onitsha Inland Port. But it has not significantly reduced the movement of containers through the roads. It has also not curbed the gridlock on the roads leading to the Lagos ports.  Therefore, the movement of cargo from Apapa to Ibadan on a single rail track will lead to evacuation of 90 40foot-containers daily. By the time the three tracks are completed, about 270 containers will be evacuated daily. 

Currently, containers litter every space at the Lagos ports, impeding movement and slowing down maritime business. Haulage trucks also clog all access roads to the ports for weeks and months on end, causing traffic snarls and economic losses.  The cargo rail freight will expectedly cut down the rising cost of clearing goods and also reduce high demurrage on imported goods.

Interestingly, the cargo freight vial the railway is coming at a time when the removal of fuel subsidy has increased the cost of road transportation. Therefore, it has become an alternative mode to move cargoes from one part of the country to another.  Evacuation of cargoes through the roads is costly, inadequate and often hazardous. It leads to extortion by touts, loss of goods and loss of man-hours.

We urge the NRC to ensure that the movement of cargoes through the railway is not impeded by mismanagement.  The cost of haulage should be moderate and the delivery of goods seamless. Let the cost of rail transportation of goods be affordable.  The operators of the rail cargoes should be adequately trained to enable them cope with the demands of modern cargo freight operations. They will be ready and willing to offer best services that will attract patronage. This is perhaps one venture that the government should manage well.

Moreover, all loopholes that promote corruption and siphoning of funds by staff must be plugged. Let the government use the venture to demonstrate that it can effectively run a profitable business in line with global best practices.  The nation’s railway system has not been fully developed. The government should expand the railway system to lessen the burden on road transportation.

With a functional railway system, the government can earn so much revenue from this mode of transportation. Apart from the federal government, the state governments can also invest in railway transportation system and use it to boost their internally generated revenue.  The cost of moving the containers through the rail must be cheaper than moving them through the roads. Making it higher will be counter-productive. We urge those concerned to ensure that the charges are moderate and affordable.

We commend the new minister for ensuring the take-off of the project and urge him to do more.   Let him ensure that the railway workers are courteous to their customers. He should also enhance safety in railway transportation. All the vandalized tracks on the narrow gauge should be repaired without delay, while all the wagons should undergo thorough servicing before putting them on track.

Currently, the NRC has 120 narrow gauge wagons in its fleet. Let the government address this glaring inadequacy by providing more gauge wagons. We urge the authorities to explore more viable routes in the South-East and other regions which will attract more customers. Sadly, the past government of Muhammadu Buhari deliberately overlooked the region in its railway development plan. The new government under President Bola Tinubu should not repeat Buhari’s avoidable mistake.

We urge the federal government not to allow anything to stall the worthy project. Let it not be afflicted with the usual implementation fatigue that plagued such laudable projects in the past. If the rail freight haulage is seamlessly implemented, the pressure on roads will be drastically reduced.

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