About seven years after its commencement, the first phase of the Abuja-Kaduna Standards Rail Gauge was commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari, with a pledge to ensuring that the country has a working rail system.
Towards this end, his administration would pursue a 25-Year Strategic Railway Master Plan which is aimed at rehabilitating the existing 3,505km narrow gauge rail line as well as constructing new standard gauge rail lines across the country.
Though conceptualised by the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006, the actual execution of the project started in 2009 under the regime of the administration of Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari said the completion and commissioning of the project marked a major milestone in the annals of the country.
According to him, “The construction of the Abuja-Kaduna Standard Gauge rail track commenced in 2009 and happily, seven years after, we are on the threshold of presenting to Nigerians a Standard Gauge Railway Train Service that will be safe, fast and reliable.
“The train service will provide the much needed alternative transport link between the Federal Capital Territory and Kaduna State, a corridor which has a huge potential for industries, agricultural activities, and a growing labour force.
“This project was conceived by a previous administration, started by the last government and I am pleased to complete and commission it.”
The President recalled that between 1963 and early 1980s, Nigeria had a vibrant rail system which conveyed agricultural, livestock and solid mineral resources to Lagos and Port Harcourt sea ports from where they were exported.
“It is our vision and hope that those good old days will soon be back with us and indeed in a more prosperous way with the restoration of rail transport system which today’s occasion,” he said.
He commended the Minister of Transportation Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi and his team to have put great efforts in the last few months towards ensuring the successful completion of the project under the present administration.
Buhari noted that the commissioning of the project was in line with the vision of bringing about the desired change to make life easier for the generality of Nigerians through the development and provision of the necessary social and physical infrastructure.
“In this regard, I wish to assure Nigerians that most State capitals and major commercial and production centres will be linked with railway system as a way of bringing about rapid socio-economic development and improving the quality of life of the Nigerians and promoting social and regional integration.
“Furthermore, I wish to also reassure Nigerians that due attention will be placed on pursuing the 25-Year Strategic Railway Master Plan which is aimed at rehabilitating the existing 3,505km narrow gauge rail line and developing and constructing new standard gauge rail lines across the country.
“As we celebrate the symbolic return of rail service today I wish to reiterate the commitment of this Administration to pursue with greater vigour and determination rehabilitation and construction of other rail lines including the major Lagos-Calabar and Kano-Lagos lines.
“As we get down to work, I look forward to flagging off many more lines outlined in our transport policy programme.” Buhari said.
Former FCT Minister and Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, under whom the project was initiated lamented that the project which was intended to be completed in only four years had to be abandoned because the subsequent governments were not interested in it.
He said it was regrettable that only a portion of the project that was to cost N8 billion was commissioned 10 years down the line. But he commended President Buhari for buying into the vision of the Obasanjo administration in providing a cheaper and more affordable means of transportation to the teeming Nigerian population by revisiting the project.
FCT Minister, Muhammad Musa Bello, in his welcome remarks, said the completion and commissioning of the project would mark a complete turnaround in the economic lives of residents of the Territory, who are the immediate beneficiary of the project.
The minister assured that the Abuja intercity rail project being executed by the FCT was 77 percent completed, assuring that by December 2017, the project would be completed and commissioned.
Meanwhile, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has hailed President Buhari for completing the railway project, saying “We are excited that President Muhammadu Buhari has commissioned our project.”
The PDP which took to its verified Twitter handle @PdpNigeria to hail President Buhari said, “We congratulate @NGRPresident on the commissioning of the Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge rail line and flagging off of commercial operations on it.
“We congratulate the people of Nigeria who can enjoy the benefits of this revolutionary service.
“We must commend former President Goodluck Jonathan for the conceptualisation of the project as a standard gauge rail line. We sincerely hope the project fulfils the dreams he had of greater integration between the cities of Abuja and Kaduna.
“We also commend former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the work put into the structure of the project. It is important to note that the structure of this project ensured that it didn’t suffer the fate of many projects before it which are abandoned by successive administrations.”
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