The December deadline given by the Ministry of Transportation before the commissioning of the Abuja light rail project appears no longer possible due to the late arrival of the train coaches from China last Tuesday.
Deputy Director Public Relations, Nigerian Railway Corporation, Yakub Mahmood, who disclosed this to Daily Trust, said it is not easy to convey the coaches to Abuja from Lagos, adding that special heavy duty vehicles needed to convey the coaches are already at the Tin Can Island in Lagos to embark on such mission any moment from now.
According to him, the locomotives have been in Abuja since July while the coaches are in Lagos now, ready to be conveyed to Abuja. "I cannot tell you precisely when the project will be commissioned as that is the function of the Minister of Transportation," he added.
He appealed to Nigerians to appreciate the efforts of government as all the equipment were imported and government was bent on delivering such laudable project.
"Nigerians should give us time. It is not something we should rush as everything involved has to be imported because they are not manufactured here. This is a standard railway line and everything has to comply with that standard and has to be new," he stated.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007 performed the official foundation laying ceremony of the Abuja light rail project. The $84 million, 280km Abuja Light Rail System (ALRS), was designed to convey commuters from satellite towns to the city centre.
The project was originally linked to the city's bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
However, lack of funds delayed the project by many years. The contract for the light rail project was awarded to China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).
The first phase of the project will connect the city centre to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, stopping at the standard gauge railway station in Idu. The project is expected to be launched in December 2017.
The Abuja rail mass transit project phase 1 consists of a 'Lot 1' and 'Lot 3' line.
Lot 1 Line consists of Lot1A and Lot1B line with a total length of 23.718km.
The Lot 1A proposed stations are - Idu - Gwagwa - Dei Dei - Jibi - Gbazango - Byazhin - Kubwa.
Lot 1B proposed stations are Ring Road 1 - Garki - Wuse - Utako - Jabi I - Jabi II - Ring Road III - Gwarinpa - Karmo.
Lot 3 proposed stations are: Abuja - Stadium - National Park - Ring Road II - Wupa - Idu - Airport.
The complete network is planned to link Abuja with satellite towns such as Nyanya, Kubwa, Mararaba and Lugbe.
Some of the lines extend from the Federal Capital Territory into the neighbouring states.
Some of the railway stations outside Abuja municipality, include Gwagwalada, Nyanya, Mararaba and Keffi all in Nasarawa State and Suleja in Niger State.
The FCT minister, Malam Muhammadu Musa Bello, recently said that the construction work on the Abuja Light Rail project projected date of completion for lots 1a and 3 is October, while the test run was to commence from November, this year.
The minister also said that the completion of comprehensive maintenance and office complex buildings at the rolling stock depot, Idu, as well as the completion of permanent way and laying of double tracks are at various stages of completion.
He disclosed that the construction work in 10 out of 12 railway stations and the installation of signaling and communication equipment at the 10 completed railway stations and the Idu Rolling depot have equally been completed.
The minister said the total length of the rail double track laid is 45.245 kilometres, which is 100 per cent completed.
Bello said due to the importance the present administration attached to the rail project, the FCTA would work assiduously to complete it and make it operational as planned.
He said his administration was determined to assuage the difficulties currently being experienced by commuters in the territory, adding that this explained why great attention is given to the project.
The Railway Project Manager, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), Mr Kong Tao, said phase one of Abuja Rail Mass Transit Project will be commissioned this month.
Tao said this while addressing journalists who were on tour of the site at Idu, Abuja, recently.
He said the project, which cost $823 million (about N299 billion), consisted of lots 1A and 3, covering 45km with 12 designed passengers' stations.
"The line of the rail mass transit is double-track line of right side running, and standard-gauge is 1435mm.
According to him, it would be test-run by November and commissioned for public usage in December.
He however lamented that the host communities often destroyed the perimeter fencing built to prevent trespassing on the rail track.
"This endangers lives as operational trains move constantly on the rail track.
"Safety is the most important thing in our operation. Even though we built fence to prevent trespass, they break it to cross the rail rack," he said.
In view of the December 2017 deadline set by the FCT minister for the commissioning of the railway project coming to an end, Daily Trust sought to know how feasible it is for the FCT Administration to meet the deadline.
Checks by Daily Trust shows that the railway terminals in Idu, Wuye, Central Area, Airport road are almost completed and construction workers were seen putting finishing touches to them.
A worker at the terminal who did not want his name mentioned said that work had been completed except for casting work involving a small part of the terminal. He also said that government officials in charge of the project have been inspecting it regularly.
When Daily Trust contacted the FCT Transport Secretariat's Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mr. Ifeanyi Ughamadu, on when the railway would be ready for commissioning he said "I cannot tell you categorically yes or no because we have not yet received any approval from the minister to go ahead with the commissioning, but the project is ready. I will direct you to our transport secretariat secretary for more information concerning the project."
Speaking to Daily Trust on the project delivery date, the FCT Transport Secretariat Secretary, Mr Kayode Opeifa, restated the FCT Administration's commitment to the timely completion of the railway project.
He said, "We are on course. The way railway works, we are going to run it for some time. It is not that when we commission it we are going to start commercial operations immediately. There are two commissionings: the commissioning of work and then there will be test run - it will be moving people but not commercial. So, we have completed the engineering work, and we are ready for December.
"The project contractors are due to handover. Even though the project is completed, many people will be waiting for the commissioning ceremony."
Opeifa said that safety checks had been done by independent engineers from Germany and they had certified it.
He said the terminals are huge and very modern. "Our terminals are huge and very modern. You don't even see such abroad; so we have even gone ahead of them," he noted.
He said the rail line is 35 kilometres long and can convey commuters from Abuja metro station straight to the airport, saying there are about 19 stations for the residents to board the train.
"We are delivering the first of its kind in Nigeria.
"President Muhammadu Buhari and the FCT minister ,Muhammadu Bello, are so much committed to the project for the benefit of Nigerians. This project will promote investment in the FCT. We have completed the railway. If we are talking of Abuja mass transit corridor, that is entirely different. We planned to build the one that will take you to Nyanya, Suleja, Kuje so there are so many lines. That's why I said this administration is keen in delivering the railway projects. The one we have completed now is lot 3 and lot 1a.
"In the Abuja master plan there are many railway lines just like there are many roads so they cannot all be built at once. The Abuja - Kaduna railway handled by the Federal Government has been completed. They are built in sessions, so we have built two out of six now and definitely we are going to launch another one - the one that takes you to Karshi."
He said that the project would reduce road congestion and will be cheaper to board.