Massive movement of cargo by rail not yet a reality

There are indications that the call for a more organised intermodal approach to facilitate movement of cargo in and out of the ports in the country may not be realisable in the immediate future except the government makes good its plan to link up the coastal areas. However the present economic recession is not helping matters. Some stakeholders believe that the because of the colossal amount of money  involved in getting a functional standard gauge rail line network across the ports, the present government has a lot on its hands..

This has also created a gloomy picture in that area, especially in Lagos where all the access road leading to the ports have become over used and highly dilapidated thereby causing day to day havoc. SHIPS & PORTS DAILY investigations show that no day passes without a container falling on the roads and causing mayhem.   It is believed that the more pressure that the roads are made to undergo, the more rundown they become.

The very state of the roads has made it imperative that the intermodal system of transport should be priotised, However in spite of the challenges some terminals at ports are running skeletal movement of cargo by rail.   Boye Uzamot of ENL Consortium told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY that the rail system as an intermodal mode of transport in the maritime industry is beyond the terminals because the project belongs initially to the Nigeria Railway Corporation and they are the owner of the rail lines, the wagons and anybody wanting to take its cargo through the rail will first has to liaise with the Railways.

 “They have to release the wagons before liaising with the terminals that will now provide the facilities for the moving the cargo into the rail wagons.”  He said that while moving cargo by rail will facilitate trade, it is an all-inclusive that will involve the Nigerian Railway, the federal ministry of transport and the terminals. He said the process will lessen cost of movement and the pressure on roads. He explained that presently the movement is skeletal involving petroleum products, fertilisers and containers to the Northern part of the country

 Recently the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Usman while on a tour of the ports, emphasized the need to move cargo in and out of the port by rail so as to lessen pressure on the road. She said that because of the exigency of the times, the NPA will work with the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) to facilitate this by ensuring that the tracks are in place and provision made for rolling stock.

The disclosure was coming on the heels of several calls by stakeholders for shift from emphasis on road haulage to intermodal transport especially as access road to Lagos and other ports are derelict state.

At ENL Consortium and Apapa Bulk Terminal Ltd, Usman tried to find out how they’ve been able to make use of rail to move cargo. Mark Walsh, Executive Director Operations of ENL explained that the use of the rails has not been very popular with port users, but since the terminal started making use of it, others have seen the need.

Usman encouraged port users to adjust to more frequent use of the rail, urging them to get across to NPA concerning any challenge in this regard which will be sorted out with the Nigerian Railway Corporation.

Earlier this year, the Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi said the Federal Government will re-connect the country’s railway with the sea ports in a bid to boost economic activities. Amaechi said this during a meeting he had with port professionals in Lagos.

The minister said President Muhamadu Buhari’s resolve to diversify the economy had brought to the front burner the need to implement the inter-modal means of transportation in the country. “We expect that before June or July, we should begin the process or we should start the construction of the Lagos-Kano, and possibly the Lagos-Calabar railway.

 “If those two contracts commence, then we expect that they would generate employment (and) economic activity would improve. “And we say that all of these must terminate at the sea ports, so anybody can import from any particular place in time. “You can import from Warri Sea Port; you can import from Port Harcourt sea port; you can import or export from Calabar sea port or any of the sea ports.

“In terminating the railway, we are going to terminate one at Apapa and another one at Tin Can to encourage inter-modal means of transportation.’’ The minister gave the assurance that appropriate measures would be taken to ensure that the country received the right amount of revenue from the system. “We also want to know how much is coming in and how much is being spent.’’ “Nobody is expected to spend more than the budget has been approved for you so that we save money for the economy.’’

Why the Minister’s position sounds commendable, the exclusion of the 1,402km Coastal Rail Project from the 2016 Appropriation Bill generated heated debate in the country. Recently, there was controversy over the alleged removal of the Lagos-Calabar rail project from the 2016 budget passed by the National Assembly. The parliament and the executive were at loggerheads over the purported removal of the project. While the Appropriation committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives said the project was not in the original document presented by President Muhammadu Buhari, the ministry of transportation stood its ground that the project was included in the budget but removed along the line.

Given the commitment of the federal government to bring back the rail system, especially through a gradual process of converting to the standard gauge lines from the present narrow gauge, the completion of these projects becomes paramount towards the realisation of the federal government’s drive to revitalise the railway sub-sector of the transportation industry. 
More importantly, experts say the focus should not only be on massive movement of passengers but also on massive freight movement that would support the industry. In the heydays of the Nigerian Railways, movement of goods from one state to another was usually done by rail, and many lines were strategically built to connect production centres.
With the revitalisation of the railway system, the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) has already commenced movement of goods from one part of the country to another. The NRC this indicates that trains now move cement and flour from the Lagos district to the north and also ferries containers from APM terminals in Lagos to the north.
The NRC recently said it is in talks with oil marketers to start moving petroleum products to all parts of the country. The acting Managing Director of the corporation, Engr. Fidel Okhiria, stated that the NRC had acquired 40 pressurised tank wagons with the capacity to lift 800,000 litres of petroleum at a go.
Besides, the corporation would, beginning from June, start moving coal from Enugu State to the Port Harcourt, with 150,000 tonnes being targeted monthly.
“The cardinal goal of the federal government is to drive the standard gauge, that is, the track modernisation. We are leaving the narrow gauge of 1067 to 1435mm and we are happy to announce the arrival of five coaches that will commence the running of the Abuja- Kaduna standard gauge,” Okhiria told journalists recently.
“We are expected to commence trial run in May and from there on, the commercial operation will kick off after one month. It is no longer news that the federal government is pursuing the realisation of commencing the standard gauge from Lagos to Kano, and another one from Lagos to Calabar, and ensuring the full completion of the Kaduna-Abuja and Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Port Harcourt standard gauge track,” he said. 
“The dream of this management is to fully support the government in achieving the dream by providing the necessary professional support and advice and to get the fastest way of achieving this dream that is being turned to reality,” the NRC managing director added.
He said the federal government needs to initiate a policy that will produce construction of 100km line on a yearly basis. But it is not certain if the government can afford the huge financial outlay involved. A kilometre of rail costs as much as $3.5 million to build, according to findings. 
That’s why many experts are advocating for a public-private partnership arrangement that would complement the deals Nigeria has with the Chinese government to develop the railway sector.
The Chief Executive Officer of Connect Rail Service (CRS), Mr. Edeme Kelikume, whose company provides logistics services for the movement of cement and flour through rail, stressed the need for the development of an inter-modal transportation system with train playing an integral part.
“Train is the way to go. It complements trailers. Now for some of the locations that we move to, when we get to the destinations, we also use our trucks to move from the station to the warehouse. It is a complementary service,” Kelikume said. 
“There is something called the one billion clock. They are countries that run a billion turns of rail every year; countries like China, Russia, India and the United States. These four countries also have the highest trucks’ counts. Is that a coincidence? It is complementary,” he explained.
“Our rail line was built in 1900. It is a century-old line, actually 115 years old that we are still using today. This is the same line that was used to move groundnuts. This is the same line that was used to move cocoa from the South-west and coal from Enugu. But there is significant improvement. If there had been continuity like this over the past couple of years, we would have had a more efficient rail system,” Kelikume said.
The coastal rail project has great future for the Nigerian economy according to experts. This is why port users are waiting expectedly for the realisation of this project. Nigeria rail system has however come a long way.  As of 2003, Nigeria’s rail system had only some 3,557 kilometers of single gauge track largely not functioning. The country had just two major rail lines: Lagos to Kano and Port Harcourt, River state to Maiduguri, the Borno state. Both lines were relatively in a state of disrepair until in 2009, when some significant investments began to creep into resuscitating the sleeping economic giant. 
Thus the country has to rely on road to transport heavy goods across the country, a situation that has left our roads in worst conditions. 
The only operational long haul segment of Nigeria’s rail network is Lagos to Kano and it came alive in 2013. The passenger trains take 30 hours to complete the 1,126km journey at an average speed of 50 km/h – because the tracks are narrow and winding. Standard guage will reduce that travel time to about 6 hours or less at about 130km per hour. 
In order to remedy the poor condition, efficiency and profitability of the nation’s railroads, the Nigerian government in 2002 proposed a 25-year railway development plan as a part of the Vision 20:2020 economic emancipation effort. In that Vision was a focus on connecting major cities in Nigeria with standard (double gauge) gauge.

Copyright 2016 Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to as the source.