The federal government has given a new August 2018 deadline for completion of the 323km Itapke -Warri rail project. Sunday Okobi takes a look at the feasibility or otherwise, given that the contract terms gave March 2019 as the delivery date
In August 2017, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, conducted a site inspection of the 323km Itapke - Warri rail project that was previously abandoned for over a decade. The Itapke-Warri rail line is important because it is located within the economic belt where a lot of solid mineral prospecting happens.
The minister thus ordered the completion and commercial operations of the Ajaokuta-Itapke-Warri rail line by June 2018. The contract for the rehabilitation of a section of the dilapidated rail track, construction of access roads plus drainages, and building of the rail stations was awarded to China Civil and Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) Nigeria limited at $122.6 million but the contract sum may likely change with additional scopes of the job that were not originally part of the contract
Amaechi in one of his briefing sessions told journalists that rather than allow the rail facilities decay further with more economic losses, it would be beneficial to covert the rail line, hitherto built to transport raw materials to commercial rail system. To achieve this, 12 stations and 12 access roads had to be designed and built. Also, to be built are cargo shades in some stations, culverts and drainages.
The initial completion period of the project contract that traverses Kogi, Edo and Delta States was 15 months (to end March 2019).
But it was unofficially brought forward to August 2018 by the minister of transportation at one of the meetings with the contractor. But the proposed August date may likely not happen as the contractor, CCECC, is seriously faced with challenges. Some of the challenges are insecurity, harsh weather conditions, community crisis, delayed release of funds, right of way issues and in some cases, lack of station designs.
The rail line has 12 stations and the contract is divided into two segments - Itapke to Ajaokuta and Ajaokuta to Warri. The Itapke to Ajaokuta (IA) has two stations while the Ajaokuta to Warri (AW) has 10 stations. The stations include: Station IA1 - Eganyi, Station IA2 - Adogo, Station AW1 - Ajaokuta, Station AW2 - Itogbo, Station AW3 - Agenegbode, Station AW4 - Uromi, Station AW5 - Ekehen, Station AW6 - Igbanke, Station AW7 - Agbor, Station AW8 - Abraka, Station AW9 - Okpara, and station AW10 - Ujewu.
Scope of work in the two segments
The first segment comprised the rehabilitation of railway line which is about 52km completed except the two stations. The second segment comprised the rehabilitation of some segments of the tracks that are damaged (not included in the initial contract), the building of the 10 stations, access roads, clearing the thick vegetation that had buried the tracks and other works. The work has indeed reached advanced stage and the contractor is working to meet the completion deadline, although it is a bit difficult to estimate in percentage the general scope of work done as work is progressing on majority of the stations. However, CCECC has completed the clearing of track of overgrown vegetation, de-sitting of the drainages inclusive of Ajaokuta-Warri railway line segment is completed 100 percent. Also the company has commenced replacement of damaged rails and sleepers.
The Itakpe-Ajaokuta line laying of tracks at station IA 02 is completed while the profiling of ballast is in progress.
CCECC alone has employed about 700 locals on the Itapke-Warri rail corridor (technical and non technical). Some communities have had their roads paved and one lands leveled.
The contractor is facing security problems especially around the Ajaokuta end as kidnappings among other crimes happen regularly around that axis. Because of insecurity, CCECC had to sub-contract stations 9 (Okpara) and 10 (Ujewu) to a local contractor - Tinabell Nigeria Ltd to handle. The contractors also complained that communities around Abraka and Warri sometimes would stop them from working, citing compensation issues. At AW8 (Abraka) for instance, the communities even stopped CCECC from working for days.
"At AW6 (Igbanke), they stopped us from working for about a week. At AW9 (Okpara) and AW10 (Ujewu), they even beat up our subcontractors and consultants" one of the workers commented.
Unpredictable weather is also slowing down the pace of work done. There has been recurrent daily rainfall since April. This has further slowed down the pace of work significantly.
The length of the project (323km) is another issue the contractor is grappling with deploying equipment, tools and manpower has been an issue. Also the sites are remotely located thus making it difficult for staff to work during odd hours.
August 2018 deadline
From the extent of work done so far, it's impossible to complete the entire project by August, 2018. However, the rail tracks can be finished by September 2018 but investigations show that the entire project will be ready by March, 2019. THISDAY gathered from top ministry of transportation officials that the minister has also realised that the project can't be delivered by August 2018. Thus the ministry wants the contractor to get some three stations ready so the project can still be inaugurated by August or September 2018 while the remaining stations would be completed later. The contractor is said to be working round the clock to deliver the three stations billed for unveiling in with the aim of completing the entire project by March 2019, when the contract life would end.