President Muhammed Buhari on Tuesday, flagged off the US$3.2 billion Port Harcourt to Maiduguri narrow gauge railway reconstruction project with new branch lines to Owerri, Imo State and Damaturu, Yobe State.
The project which is to be co-financed by loan from a syndicate of Chinese financiers with Federal Government contribution of 15% project cost, includes the Bonny Deepsea port and Railway Industrial park, Port Harcourt are being developed through direct investment by the conglomerate led Messrs CCECC Nigeria Limited with a total investment portfolio of US$3.2 billion.
Upon completion, trains on the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri Eastern Narrow Gauge Railway will run at 60 to 80 kilometers per hour Kph and 80 to 100 kilometers per hour Kph for freight and passenger respectively.
Also, The Bonny Deepsea port have a container terminal of 500,000 TEU (20 foot equivalent unit) per annum capacity and 100,000 DWT (Deadweight tonnage) Berth. The Railway Industrial park, Port Harcourt would be supported by necessary infrastructure (Power, Water, Waste Disposal, ICT, Gas distribution) as well as transportation, logistics centers and ancillaries.
"This investment gain can be attributed to the unrelenting effort of the Ministry", Buhari.
The President, through his virtual address informed that the project was with the objective of resuscitating the once vibrant railway transportation in the Eastern railway corridor of the country, Port Harcourt - Maiduguri.
He Noted that his administration was further expanding it to achieve contemporary demand for transport in the North East and Southern geopolitical zones of the country.
He addied: "It is also designed to link other standard gauge rail lines under construction through the provision of transshipment centers."
According to him, the funding of the railway is through loan to fund 85% project cost and the Federal Government's contribution of 15% as counterpart funding.
"The second and the third projects are the Bonny deep sea port and a Railway Industrial Park, Port Harcourt that are to be constructed through direct investments by our Chinese partners and international financing agencies."
He stated the these projects will serve transportation and supply chain network for domestic needs and export as well as support imports into the hinterland of the country through the new deep sea port in Bonny Island, Rivers State.
He said: "This improved port is designed to be a regional and international transport hub. In line with the global trends, the Railway Industrial Park will have the capability for processing exports of raw materials with value addition and also export of locally made goods.
"In planning this project, prudent use of resources has been given priority, as by this endeavor, Nigeria will retrieve the old narrow gauge that has been lying in neglect for years and bring it to full functional state commensurate to a National railway service at a rational price."
He further said that the country's aspiration for nationwide transport infrastructure and railways was significantly enhanced by these three projects that were conceived to be integrated in their operations.
"The Port Harcourt - Maiduguri railway will translate to reactivation of economic activities along the Eastern corridor, which has been greatly affected by insurgent activities and serve as a stimulus for industry and trade.
"The connection of the railway to a new seaport in Bonny Island and Railway Industrial Park, Port Harcourt is designed to increase the viability and boost transshipment of cargo and freight locally, across the West African sub-region and in the Continental Free Trade Area."
Minister of Transportation, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, speaking earlier noted that the Federal Ministry of Transportation was working in line with Mr. President's directives, to implement the Nigeria Railway Modernisation project and progressively expand the railway network.
Noting, "In this regard, the rail line connection from Enugu to Awka - Onitsha and Abakaliki is undergoing necessary Feasibility Studies and preparation of conceptual design."
Amaechi observed that the effort of Government at rehabilitation of the rail line in year 2009-2012, did not achieve the desired outcome, partly due to inadequate funding and incompetence of some of the Contractors employed. "The rail line therefore, remain unserviceable."
According to him, the Eastern narrow gauge railway is one of the transport infrastructure established in the pre-independence period and played significant role in the development of agriculture and industrial sectors in the colonial era and immediate post-independence year up till 1985, when it became unfit for purpose as a result of the general neglect and divestment suffered by the Nigerian railways.
He however praised the effort of Mr. President, adding: "Mr. President, the administration is achieving the resuscitation of our railway system through your consistent and concerted intervention and effort.
"The Ministry remain committed to your vision for a strong and sustainable railway transportation backbone to engender and facilitate a new path to positive economic transformation of the country", Amaechi said.