NIGERIA: Dream of Bulk Cargo on Rail Dies

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 Everybody, particularly those who live and work in Apapa heaved a sign of relief last September when the federal government launched its freight rail system. Regrettably, no train has left the Apapa area since the first few trains left the ports after the launch. Now, the whole of Apapa is clogged by ‘trains’ of trucks and petroleum tankers, writes Bennett Oghifo

Most businesses that have nothing to do with the ports at Apapa have relocated. A new generation bank moved its office on Olorogun Michael Ibru Boulevard (Creek Road) elsewhere to be free of the pain and frustration the heavy-duty vehicles constitute.
Everybody plans his or her entry and exit from Apapa, but the agony of navigating through the truck-fill road persists.
Challenges of Rail in Apapa…
Apapa has a good network of rail that was built in anticipation of the volume of cargo exiting the ports. The tracks are still there and, they were used to evacuate goods last September when the federal government revived its freight cargo train system.
The corporation said the container traffic and petroleum haulage, cement and other bulk products were being hauled by train as far back as six years ago and the service was suspended “because of the rehabilitation work that was going on the stretch between Lagos and Kano that took that long. Specifically, it took about three years to get that stretch of track completed by two Companies, Costain and CCECC. That track was opened to passenger traffic on December 31, 2012.

Freight cargo system is used in most parts of the world and, it works, except in Nigeria, where it appears doomed, perhaps for lack of political will. The government said it was going to buy more locomotive engines and wagons but it seems those thoughts have since dried up.
The rail freight system needs a good stock of locomotives and wagons. The federal government launched four locomotives at the cargo train ceremony and more were expected to be added to the fleet to free some parts of the nation’s roads from heavy duty trucks used for haulage of bulk cargo, including petroleum products.

At the launch of the rail freight, the Managing Director of NRC, Adeseyi Sijuwade said the event was historical in the life of the corporation because it was “a day we recommenced NRC’s active participation in the lifting of container cargoes from the ports to hinterland and in enhancing the ports decongestion drive.”
The British colonial government built Nigeria Railways system and modeled it after that of the United Kingdom. At the entrance of the railway administrative office at Ebute Metta, there is a plaque bearing a long list of British engineers and railway administrators, who lost their lives in unfortunate circumstances to ensure Nigeria has the best rail system. The architecture of the building is simply breath-taking. It is a place to educate the mind about the thought process of those who designed and constructed the Nigerian rail system.

Freight Train Services
The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) has plans quite alright, but may have been able to work these initiatives for lack of funds. According to the NRC, “We are engaged in freight train operations crisscrossing the length and breadth of Nigerian covering 280 stations in 19 states. We have the capacity to move cement, rice, salt, sugar, fertilizer, wheat, billet, cars, coil, petroleum products and other general goods. Other traffic includes cattle, rams, grains, kaolin, clinker, which are south-bound traffic. There are two rail-served Inland Container dry Ports at Kaduna and Kano where NRC’s presence is registered. Our tariff is very reasonable and attractive. We offer “block train” and “pick-up” services too.”

NRC moves goods-train across cities based on demand; Lagos – Kano; Lagos – Kaduna; Lagos – Minna; Lagos – Kafanchan; Ewekero – Ibadan – Oshogbo – Ilorin. The commodities moved include dry and wet products.

The corporation said its clients are; Dangote; Oando oil; Guinness; Eva; Flour Mills; PZ; and Grand Cereal. However, with the load and truck congestion at Apapa, there is doubt that NRC has acquired enough locomotives and wagons to serve these clients.
“Perhaps these clients should buy their own locomotives and wagons and then hire the tracks,” said Adejobi Mohammed Saidi, a freight forwarder and clearing agent at Apapa.

The Appeal of Rail…
Most people could reminiscence on the important role trains played in their lives in the past and, want trains back on track. They want train service back, particularly for timeliness. “In those days they were prompt and safe. We timed some activities to the arrival of trains in our town each day,” said Mr. Modestus Ajunwa, 72, who lived in Umuahia, Abia State. “It was our dependable means of transportation,” he said with a look of nostalgia.
The flag off of the resumption of cargo freight was an opportunity to do a little bit of time-travel for Mr. Akinyemi Fapuro, a retired Central Power Controller with the Nigerian Railway Corporation NRC, who stated that the Operating and Commercial department oversees the rail bulk cargo.

They lift petroleum products and cement from Ewekoro, etc. NRC usually lifts for companies who demand for their services.
He said, “Once you have your commodity, move them to the nearest point of loading and they do the rest. With this, goods are safer and on time at its destination. NRC ensures safe and smooth journey with no delay enroute. Should there be any problem with the locomotive, we provide substitutes and ensure the cargo gets to its destination.”
He said NRC supply Oil Tank Wagons (OTW) to fuel depots for loading, clear the sidings and send it to different states for distribution.

He stated that road tankers were not in vogue then due to the risk involved, but that this came up when NRC was almost grounded. “The present revitalisation will make the road tankers pack up as they cannot meet up the ever increasing demands as the rail cargo does.”
Fapuro explained that one oil tank wagon (OTW) can accommodate three to four trailers and they load about 20 of these on OTWs.
On the issue of healthy competition between the NRC and drivers employed by haulage companies, he said there should not be any form of revolt from road tanker drivers as the company transporting the goods and services would have to decide.
According to NRC, “The deal is that NRC does the haulage, lifting from the petroleum depot source to its collection point while tankers pick from these collection points to the designated filling stations.”

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