The Port Harcourt-Maiduguri Eastern narrow gauge rail line will boost transshipment of goods in the West African sub-region and Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), President Muhammadu Buhari stated on Tuesday.
The President disclosed this at the groundbreaking ceremony of the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the 2,044km narrow gauge in Port-Harcourt, the Rivers state capital.
President Buhari who presided over the event virtually from the Presidential Villa, Abuja said the corridor comes with new branch lines to Owerri and Damaturu, capitals of Imo and Yobe states respectively.
He said, “The connection of the railway to a new deep 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.
“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.
“The project is with the objective of resuscitating the once vibrant railway transportation in the Eastern railway corridor of the country.
“We are further expanding it to achieve contemporary demand for transport in the North East and Southern geopolitical zones of the country. It is also designed to link other standard gauge rail lines under construction through the provision of transshipment centers. The funding of the railway is through loan to fund 85% project cost and the Federal Government contribution of 15% as counterpart funding.
“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.”
According to the President, the 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 fully functional state commensurate to a National railway service at a rational price.
“The country’s inspiration for nationwide transport infrastructure and railways is significantly enhanced by these three projects that were conceived to be integrated into 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.
“In addition, there will be further utilization of local contents and technology transfer, increase in internally generated revenue and would serve as a fulcrum for the achievement of the Federal Government planned Integrated Development Masterplan,” he added.
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi described the project as part of the comprehensive plan for the revitalization, rehabilitation and expansion of the Nigerian railway network to meet up with the transport infrastructure needs of the country.
He said, “The effort of government at rehabilitation of this rail line in the 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, remains unserviceable.
“The need for a functional rail line on this Eastern corridor persists and remain compelling as the supply chain for products and services on this corridor vanishes and articles and items such as petroleum products, iron and steel, minerals, livestock, and poultry products availability were reduced giving rise to the high cost and affecting the manufacturing and agro-allied industries, stressing that as a result, the government of President Buhari elected to address the challenge.”
He noted that the railway project is to be co-financed with a loan from a syndicate of Chinese financiers totalling 85 percent while the Federal Government will contribute 15 percent of the project cost of $3.2bn. The seaport and railway industrial pack are expected to cost up to $700m.
The Minister added that on completion, trains on the Port Harcourt–Maiduguri rail corridor will run at 60–80 kilometres per hour and 80–100 kilometres per hour for freight and passenger respectively.
The project when completed will transverse 13 states including Rivers, Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, and Imo states as well as the northern states of Kaduna, Plateau, Gombe, Bauchi, and Yobe among others.
Managing Director, China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), Jason Zhang, pledged the readiness of the company to deliver the project within 36 months.