Eastern railway project will boost economy, W/Africa cargo movement – Buhari

*Bonny Deep seaport to gulp $700m

*As FG mulls Railway Industrial park in PH

By Chesa Chesa and Myke Uzendu

The Federal government has disclosed that the $3.2bn Eastern narrow gauge railway project will not only connect the economy of 13 states around the axis, but will eqyally facilitate trans-shipment of goods across the West African subregion.

The government also said that the project will include the construction of $700m Bonny Deep Seaport and Railway Industrial Park in Port-Hacourt.

This was disclosed by President Muhammadu Buhari during the ground breaking ceremony for the Eastern narrow gauge railway on Tuesday in Port-Hacourt.

Buhari who took part in the event virtually, said that government is committed to transforming the economy and trigger activities that will withstand the shocks from the economic destruction caused by insurgency.

He said, “The Port-Harcourt – Maiduguri railway line will translate to the reactivation of economic activities along the Eastern corridor, which has been greatly affected by insurgent activities and serve as stimulus for industry and trade. 

“The connection of the railway to a new seaport in Bonny Island and a Railway Industrial Park, Port-Harcourt is designed to increase the viability and boost trans-shipment of cargo and freight locally, across the West African sub-region and in the Continental Free Trade Area.

“The sum of the socio-economic and environmental benefits of these projects includes creation of massive employment locally. 

“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.

“I therefore urge all Nigerians especially industrialists, manufacturers and businesses within the zones to take maximum advantage of this infrastructure in planning for expansion and building new factories to join in raising Nigeria’s economy to the global stage and reaffirm our leading role in Africa”.

The President explained that the Port-Harcourt – Maiduguri rail project will branch off to Owerri, Imo State and Damaturu, Yobe State. Other beneficiary states include Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Nasarawa, Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe and Yobe.

He said that the objective of the project is to resuscitate the once vibrant railway transportation in the Eastern railway corridor of the country.

In his address, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amechi, said that the project is “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 that the Eastern narrow gauge railway is one of the transport infrastructure established in the pre-independence period and played significant role in the development of agriculture and industrial sectors in the colonial era and immediate post-independence year up till 1985, when it became unfit as a result of the general neglect and divestment suffered by the Nigerian railways.

Throwing more light on the financial implication of the project he said, “while the railway project is to be co-financed by loan from a syndicate of Chinese financiers with Federal Government contribution of 15% project cost, the Bonny Deepsea Port and Railway Industrial park, Port-Harcourt are being developed through direct investment by a conglomerate led by Messrs CCECC Nigeria Limited, with a total investment portfolio of US$700Million.

“Upon completion, trains on the Port Harcourt – Maiduguri Eastern Narrow Gauge Railway will run at 60 – 80 Kph and 80 – 100 Kph for freight and passengers respectively. 

“The Bonny Deepsea port have a container terminal of 500,000 TEU (20 foot equivalent unit) per annum capacity and 100,000 DWT (Deadweight tonnage) Berth. “The Railway Industrial Park, Port-Harcourt would be supported by necessary infrastructure (Power, Water, Waste Disposal, ICT, Gas distribution) as well as transportation, logistics centers and ancillaries”.

In his good will message, Minister of Labour and Productivity, Sen. Chris Ngige, expressed appreciation to the President, adding that even as the project is on narrow gauge, it will still go a long way to impact on the economy. 

“We thank him because we are remembered in the South East. Some people say that it is narrow gauge. Even if it is narrow, it will take me to my village”.

Also adding his voice, the Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, hailed the federal government for the initiative, saying that it will not only cover the north but also major states of the country.

The Managing Director of China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), Jason Zhang, in his address said that the project will be beneficial to the host communities as most of their youths will be employed during several stages of the construction.

He pledged to complete the project in 36 months, saying that the total route length of the project is 2,044.1km with 61 loops and passing on a single track.

The event was attended by the Chairman of Caretaker Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Gov. Mai Mala Buni, who performed the ground-breaking ceremony on behalf of the president.

Other dignitaries present included the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu; Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed; Minister of Niger-Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio; Minister of State, Mines and Steel Development, Chief Uche Ogar; royal fathers and members of the National Assembly.

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