23 January 2017

Nigeria: The Train Ride From Abuja to Kaduna

opinion

Akintayo Ayodele-Bamisaye writes on his train ride from Abuja to Kaduna.

I was scheduled to be in Kaduna for a week-long event and couldn't resist the opportunity to finally try out the new train service from Abuja to Kaduna. This had been on my mind since the opening of the train service and the positive report of my in-law, Akin Fatunbi, who took the train to Kaduna in its very first week of service. It was that little bit more special for me as it would be my first ever inter-city train ride in Nigeria.

So the morning of Monday 24th October 2016 saw me head out to the Idu Train Station as early as 6a.m. The train, according to my findings, departed Abuja by either 7 or 7:30a.m. and as I was in no mood to miss the train, I didn't take any chances.

The distance from Jabi-Airport Road to the station was way longer than I anticipated and, more than once, I felt something was definitely wrong with my directions. However, I got to the station sometime around 6.23a.m. and bought a ticket for N900. The station itself, though still under construction, was quite well built with a fairly sizable departure hall.

In a very un-Nigerian fashion, we were boarded by 6:50a.m. and by exactly 6:59a.m. the train commenced the journey to Kaduna. I know this is nothing to write home about in other climes as it is only normal but I guess when you've been a Nigerian in Nigeria for a long period, and have been subjected to the poor treatment meted out by service providers, normalcy tends to be celebrated. My co-passenger, who was using the train service for the fifth time, however, mentioned that the train did not strictly adhere to the 7a.m. timeline but usually took off sometime between 7 and 7:30a.m.

Some facts for those who want to use this service, however, are:-

Whatever you do, travel light as there are no escalators or trolleys to help you get your luggage around. And since you have to use at least two staircases to get to the departure platform, you don't want to be lugging some of your stuff around the station while asking strangers to assist you with the rest.

Keep some change on you as this will be handy at the point of payment. The cashier kept complaining about the lack of N100 change and a number of passengers thought it was the typical Nigerian ruse where the cashier wants to keep this change for himself.

Anyway, my seat was number 15 in the second coach and I settled into my journey with my notebook putting down all my observations. Some of these include:- excellent leg room for the seats in the cabin, comfortable seats with decent upholstery, clean air-conditioned cabin, phone charging ports available in the cabin, though limited, a service point for snacks was also available (although this wasn't operational during my trip), two toilets per cabin (one of which didn't flush!) and a total of 56 seats in the cabin, of which 53 were occupied.

Our first stop was in Kubwa around 7:15a.m. and the entire stop lasted only three minutes.

I took the liberty of testing the service availability of the four telcos during the first hour of my trip and the network that claims to be everywhere you go appears to be truly everywhere you go and I scored them 100 per cent on my scale. My co-passenger attested to the 100 per cent availability of the smart network. Unfortunately, my preferred service provider only had service between Idu and Kubwa (15 mins) scoring 15 per cent and I couldn't get anyone to attest to the "limits" of the unlimited network. So there!

Our second stop was Jere by 7:56a.m. and the stop lasted for five minutes.

Our third stop was Rijana by 8:44a.m. and this also lasted for five minutes. Even though the Kakau Station appeared completed and ready for use, the train didn't make a stop there around 9:18a.m. when we passed through. I also observed about two or three other locations where stations were under construction.

Onboard entertainment was the movie, 'Captain America: - Civil war' and, at some point when the movie stopped, Timbaland's 'Too late to apologise' came on air. Of course, I wondered what the Nigerian Railway Corporation's (NRC) managers were thinking in this regard given the explosion of Nollywood and Nigerian Afro pop music. For all the good impression I had so far, this was a sore point for me.

While talking about sore points, the presence of Chinese technicians at the stations also stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. Given that there is still a lot of construction going on, this is to be expected but I just wondered why there aren't more Nigerians doing those lower level jobs, especially at this early phase of the construction.

At exactly 9:35a.m., the train pulled into the station at Rigasa, Kaduna for its final stop.

On the whole, the existence of a train service from the one part of the country to another is a most heartwarming reality for me. In my mind's eye I saw myself calculating how the service can immediately be expanded for greater benefits to the stakeholders; the passengers, CCECC, NRC etc. For instance, instead of only four coaches, why not take delivery of additional eight coaches increasing the total number to 12 coaches? Out of these, 10 can be used to convey passengers while the remaining two convey cargo between Kaduna and Abuja. The 10 coaches will equal a total of 560 seats available per trip. At 90 per cent capacity, this translates into 504 people moving in either direction per trip. Given that there are four trips between Abuja and Kaduna everyday, this means 2016 (no pun intended!) people will be moving between Abuja and Kaduna daily. This is massive and will impact on the economy of both Abuja and Kaduna and all the points in between as they become operational.

Also, the Kaduna State government has a massive opportunity to create a modern metropolis out of Rigasa. In departing the station to proceed into the town, one cannot help but notice the very rural state of the Rigasa axis. The coming of the train station can spur significant urban development along that axis which can be similar to previous efforts of the current Kaduna State governor when he was Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

It is important to commend everyone who has been a part of this reality till date from the previous government to the present and the management of the NRC. And in this regard, I join Nigerians to say, well done! But like Mr. David Agunbiade commented on Facebook, our problem in Nigeria has never really been in starting something laudable but rather in sustaining it. We must not only sustain this positive development but ensure it expands and does not go the way of the previous rail service(s) in the country. God bless Nigeria!

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