Without mincing words, the recent repair works carried out on the runway of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja brought to the front burner the urgency required to put in place a functional railway system in the country.
The temporary closure of the airport, which saw Abuja-bound local and international flights re-routed to Kaduna, literarily exposed the underbelly of the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) as the Kaduna rail transport was overrun by passengers.
It showed how increasingly strategic railway transport has become, in our clime, despite official tardiness in fast-tracking this alternative in its endless quest to generate revenue.
From statistics provided by the NRC, the corporation conveyed 6,659 passengers through the Abuja-Kaduna route during the just concluded Easter celebrations from Thursday 13 to Monday 17, April 2017. Yet the period was not properly maximized for lack of facilities.
NRC Kaduna Station Manager, Victor Adamu, said “On Thursday 13, we ran our normal trips and we carried 1,744 passengers. On Good Friday, we had 1,807 passengers and on Saturday, we had only one trip with 685 passengers on board.
“We also had one trip on Sunday with 581 passengers on board. Meanwhile, we resumed our full trips on Easter Monday with 1,842 passengers making the trips.”
It was obvious that on the days the station had one trip, passengers must have come, waited and left disappointed because there was no train.
An important area that has been constantly glossed over is the training of personnel. Again the surfeit of passengers during the Easter season exposed the lacuna in this area. Passengers of the Abuja-Kaduna rail complained severally of inadequate communication and inefficient services.
While they were kept waiting endlessly for trains that delayed in coming even as many of them stood all through because there were few seats; there were no announcements inform them of the delays and for how long they were expected to wait. Some passengers that tried to ask did not get any satisfying answer. It has rather become necessary that while the government is gradually trying to rebrand the NRC, training of personnel is vital. Like the passengers advocated, there should be constant flow of information from the management to the passengers, especially on the timing of the trains.
When people are trained, they will be better equipped to handle inquisitive passengers who pose questions to personnel, especially after waiting for too long in the scorching heat, waiting for the next train.
The government should also see this as a pointer to the inevitability of a resurgent Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) that has become even more than necessary to fill the yawning gap in the transport matrix of the country. The days of lip service should be jettisoned without delay. The quick passage of the Nigerian Railway Bill 2016 will play a major role in driving this.
The bill is targeted at revitalizing the operational framework and removal of the impediments that hindered international best practices within the rail transport sector. It marks a significant departure from the old order that shut out private investors from the railway business. The new bill, among other things, seeks to open up the railway business to private investors, and to distinguish the regulator, which is the government, from the operator.
While successive governments have invested even more in road expansion projects, the result has been that of gradual occupation of the expanded roads with more cars. This, like they say, is attributable to rural-urban migration as well as population explosion across the country.
Mass transit remains a very pivotal aspect of the development of any city. It plays a critical role in enhancing productivity of the state by ensuring the movement of the largest number of people from point A to Point B within the shortest possible time. It also reflects the quality of life and the value placed on the citizens by any responsible government.
The most effective means of transporting large number of people and large volume of goods within any country remains the rail. This is why any time the topic of mass transit is discussed, rail transportation dominates.
With the lessons learnt from closure of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, a major focus on transforming rail transport has become more than necessary. Government must hasten work in this area.