6 October 2010

Nigeria: Abuja Rail - An Idea Whose Time Has Come

By 2013 trains should be running in Abuja. One of these would convey 350,000 passengers each day, and this will certainly transform the nature of the public transport system in the city. Nasir Imam reports on the current efforts in this direction by the FG and a Chinese company.

Respite seems to be coming for the inhabitants of Abuja and visitors alike, who hitherto commute to the federal capital city under severe stress, especially from the three major entry points: the Kubwa expressway, Nyanya AYA route, and the Airport road.

Commuters often get stranded in long queues at bus stops on daily basis. These commuters are residents of the satellite towns of Nyanya, Kubwa, Mararaba, Lugbe, among others. Majority of those who work in the FCT, due to the high cost of accommodation in the metropolis, live in satellite towns located over 30 kilometres away from the city centre. These include areas like Gwagwalada, Nyanya, Maraba, Keffi in Nasarawa State, and Suleja in Niger State, to mention but a few.

Light rail or light rail transit (LRT) is a form of urban rail public transportation, that generally has a lower capacity and lower speed than heavy rail and metro systems. But it has higher capacity and higher speed, than traditional street-running tram systems.

The term is typically used to refer to rail systems with rapid transit-style features, that usually use electric rail cars, operating mostly in private rights-of-way separated from other traffic, but sometimes, if necessary, mixed with other traffic in city streets.

If this is the case, then under the law of many countries such systems are then legally tramways, although the vehicles which run on them are sometimes designated "super trams." Modern light rail technology is flexible and adaptable, and whether any given system is considered a true rapid transit system or not, depends on its characteristics.

The construction of the Abuja Rail Mass Transit Project was conceptualised when the Federal Government on May 7, 2007, laid the foundation stone for a $84m Abuja Light Rail Project. According to former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who performed the foundation laying ceremony, the ALRS, which is expected to cover 280 kilometres, was designed to convey commuters from the satellite towns to the city centre. The rail project is expected to be completed in 2013.

Since then many residents of and commuters to and from Abuja, have lost confidence in the sincerity of the federal government to deliver on such a laudable and necessary project, especially when there is nothing tangible to prove the contrary.

But hopes were raised when the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Wednesday, August 18, 2010, approved a N1.26 billion ($841m) contract for project management services in respect of the Lots 1-3 of the light rail transit project, named The Abuja Rail Mass Transit project, being constructed by a Chinese firm at a cost of $841.64 million (about N124 billion).

Each kilometre will gulp $13 million. Upon completion, Lot 1 is expected to handle approximately 350,000 riders per day, while Lot 3 will carry about 60,000 commuters per day

FCT Minister, Senator Bala Mohammed, who disclosed this, said it was one of the decisions taken at the Bi- weekly meeting of the EXCO. He disclosed that the additional work of the 36.7km route design track line, was due to the review of the Central Business District, and the Abuja North-West Phase IV of the Abuja Master Plan.

He explained that the contractor has concluded consultancy services contract on the feasibility study, and conceptual design of lots 1, 2, & 3 of the Abuja Rail Mass Transit network, and that the FCT Transportation Secretariat has initiated the immediate procurement of lots 2, through the Public-Private-Partnership arrangement, in order to complement the on-going lots 1 & 3 of the FCT Rail Network, to ease traffic congestion along the Nyanya/Karu axis.

"This is in addition to the procurement of operation's concessionaire for the on-going lots 1 & 3, as well as immediate procurement of lots 4, 5 & 6 of the Abuja Rail Network by the FCT Transportation Secretariat," he said.

The management services contract is for the supervision of the 77 kilometre rail project, which has a completion period of 48 months, and whose life span is between 20 to 30 years.

FCTA Supervising Engineer of the project, Engr. Tony Agwaniru, said sufficient funds are needed to finish the sub-structure, lay the standard gauge tracks, put in the trial train cars, and the light rail will commence with a speed range of 80 to 100 kilometres per hour.

He said that upon completion, the rail transit will employ 10,000 permanent workers and over 8,000 casual workers.

Engr. Ayo Adeyemi, S.A.(Water and Environment) to the FCT Minister, expressed satisfaction with CCECC's completion of the earthworks, and said FCTA will be on top of the situation to ensure that standards are maintained.

The Chinese company said it mobilised to site in 2009, but only $148 million, representing 20% of the contract sum, and is actually less than the mobilisation fees, have so far been paid by the government.

Also speaking about the funding of the project, Engr. Kenneth Okafor, a Director in the FCT Transportation Secretariat, said that lack of functioning steel companies in Nigeria, has made it very imperative to import the rail tracks.

He said though the federal government is considering taking a loan from the World Bank, such provision has not been made in the 2010 budget, but a development plan for funding infrastructure, has made impact on the progress made so far.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is crucial and necessary before during and after any project, and these include the aesthetics of the environment, the ecosystem and all other parameters and evaluations.

The project, designed by CPCS Transport Nigeria Limited to be built by China Civil Engineering and Construction Corporation (CCECC), would come in two different models, namely the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Rapid Rail Transit (RRT).

The LRT is low-speed. It has fewer coaches and will operate within the city centre. The RRT is high speed, has more coaches and is designed to cover the FCT. "The metro system will be gas-powered at the initial time, and then in the near future when the energy supply becomes more stable, we can convert to electricity," he said.

Already, Girders and Sleepers made of pre-stressed concrete on which the standard gauge rail tracks will be laid, are being constructed by the company at their industry layout in Idu Industrial area of Abuja. With 1,760 sleepers per kilometre, so far about 80,000 have been constructed, representing about 30% of the whole lot.

Whether you're heading downtown for work or school, shopping or dining, hitting the ballgame, or enjoying a night on the town, light rail is going your way. Another advantage is that light rail cars are wheelchair accessible.

Light rail offers over 36 convenient stations on several lines to get you anywhere you want to go. The Light Rail system provides fast and reliable transportation through central, southwest and southeast metro areas You can leave your car at home or park it at one of nearly 20 light rail stations with park-n-Ride lots. Then, just hop on board to get to your destination or make connections to other RTD services, such as call-n-Rides or bus routes. Best of all, you'll save money over driving while enjoying a commute free of stress, traffic jams and bad weather.

So while Abuja commuters eagerly await 2013, they can afford to wait because once they have tried it, they'll find that the light rail really is the fast, comfortable and convenient way to get around, and some lines provides additional late night/early morning trips.

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