Lagos — In this report, Sunday Trust learns that as Nigeria Railway Corporation refurbishes 18 of its coaches, Kaduna - Minna bound commuters are asking for more. Slowly but surely, the trains have returned.
Though not with the exact expectation many have hoped for, Nigerians are making do with what is available at the moment, praying better train services and experience will come soon. It is not just the locomotives that have returned, Nigeria Railway Corporation in-house maintenance works are returning as well. This can be a huge cost saver and boost the efficiency of the corporation.
When NRC commenced long distance inter-city train service between Minna and Kaduna on June 20, 2011 heralding the rollout of inter-city train services in the north, it probably didn't anticipate the excitement the services would receive. It has been well received going by the human traffic and demand for more coaches.
The Minna-Kaduna inter-city train service was the first in the series of inter-city train services being rolled out by the corporation to integrate utilization of locomotives for both mass transit and inter-city train services.
Additional inter-city services were rolled out in July as follows: Kaduna-Kano-Nguru; Kafanchan-Kaduna-Minna; Jos-Kuru-Kafanchan and Minna-Kaduna-Kafanchan.
On completion of track rehabilitation works, the northern inter-city train service will also be linked to the north-east, eastern, western and southern regions.
Nigerians in the north, like elsewhere, have welcome the trains in excitement. Commuters are excited because they can travel from one place to another and can transport huge goods from one city to another at less cost. They also are excited because, their economies will improve. This single transport resource is capable of unlocking the economic potentials in the north and other parts of Nigeria if well developed as in other parts of the world.
But the commuters have raised concerns about the inadequacy of coaches and frequency of shuttles from Minna to Kaduna. Right now, the trains travel only three times a week to and from Minna to Kaduna. The travel days are Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays.
Following complaints from passengers about inadequacy of coaches, on July 28, 2011, the Managing Director of Nigerian Railway Corporation, Engineer Adeseyi Sijuwade promised that the frequency would be improved and the wagons increased.
He told our correspondent that the corporation's other coaches will be rehabilitated across the country. Three coaches are being used at the time they are grossly inadequate.
So on 23 August, 2012 in Minna and Kaduna, 18 rehabilitated coaches were commissioned. But what is even more exciting about the new coaches is that all of them have been refurbished locally using the NRC workforce with little external support.
Each of the coaches has six baggage vans, two power cars and eight passenger coaches inclusive of first class coach and a restaurant. It also has toilet facilities.
Our correspondent reports that it cost NRC about N500,000 to refurbish each coach. This amount is in addition to materials sourced from the NRC store or imported. The N500,000 covers painting, electrical works, furnishing and other repairs.
The NRC Director of Operations, Mr Nyi Alli explained to our correspondent, "Under this project, a total of 117 coaches and wagons will be refurbished across the country. The intention is to improve the quality of customer experience. And we are going to do this nationwide. This is just phase one.
"The 18 coaches being launched today were refurbished in our workshop in Zaria. And they will be dedicated to the Minna-Kaduna-Minna mass transit service."
Similar thing he said is being "done in Lagos, where we will be re furbishing all the coaches currently being used for the mass transit train service. We will do the same in Ilorin and Kaduna in the next few weeks.
"We are also working on others to be dedicated to the Lagos-Kano route. That will be launched in a couple of weeks. The commencement of the Lagos-Kano service is being delayed by the repair works on Bridge 73 close to Minna. The repair works on the Akere Bridge has been concluded and we have commenced trial runs."
He explained why the NRC resorted to direct labour to fix its coaches: "The good thing about our decision to engage in-house experts in the repair of our coaches is an attempt to return to the good old days of the railway where everything was done in-house.
We are looking at restarting our local workshops where the staff and expertise are in-house to the railway. The decision is intended to enable us maintain our facilities in future. It is cheaper. And it is a long term thing."
On security, he said, "We are improving on our security measures by having additional patrol of the rail tracks. We are in the process of installing scanning devices on train and stations and also increase the number of our security personnel."
On personnel, he said, "We are also working on succession planning. We are in the process of recruiting a new set of drivers, who will be well trained in all the necessary aspects of their duties, particularly route knowledge. They will be resuming duty in few months."
Niger Transportation Commissioner, Alhaji Abubakar Mohammed who commissioned the Minna coaches expressed the willingness of the state to support the NRC efforts.
"We intend to partner with the Nigerian Railway Corporation in providing facilities at the major train stations in the state. By doing this we will also be providing a conducive environment for the commuters," he said.
He urged the federal government to pay more attention to the development of the railway sector. This will go a long way in reducing the hardship encountered by commuters.
Engineer Ayeni Adekunle, the Railway District Manager, the northern district, Zaria told our correspondent that the coaches launched for the Minna Kaduna mass transit rake were rehabilitated in Zaria.
"The new coaches from the outside to the inside is done here in Nigeria by NRC staff. Several others are still undergoing rehabilitation. The wheel and body works, paintings, furnishing and electrical works are being done at the moment by our staff," he stated.
He assured that the corporation has capacity to do more refurbishing if given resources saying, "We are willing and able to do some of the ongoing rehabilitations given all the necessary materials and incentives. We have done 18 thus far. It took us just about 30 working days to fix the 15 coaches."
For now, though slowly but surely, the trains are gradually returning to Nigeria.