By Myke Uzendu, Abuja
Following agitations that approval for the Port Harcourt – Maiduguri railway line should have been for a standard guage, Minister of Transportation, Hon. Chibuike Amechi revealed that the Ministry settled for narrow guage due to paucity of funds.
The Minister stressed that President Muhammadu Buhari was reluctant to approve the narrow guage on the Eastern corridor but later gave a nod on the project which will save the country a whopping $9 billion. He said that while coaches on the standard guage will optimally operate at 140km per hour, those on narrow guage will operate at 100km per hour, pointing out that the 40km difference was not commensurate to the humongous $9 billion difference on project cost.
The Minister made the disclosure during the Annual Ministerial press briefing on the landmark activities of the ministry and it’s agencies in 2020, which held at the National Press Centre, Radio House, Abuja on Friday.
The Ministry said, “There’s a huge argument, why did you have to do the narrow gauge, the answer is simple. We have the standard gauge approval, that’s between 11 to $14 billion for the same, the same alignment, no changes, to go to all these places, which is costly but the country is not bouyant enough to take11 to $14 billion cost now, we’re not prepared, we are reconstructing, that’s why you can see tees, it has a huge difference.
“One is 100 kilometers, one is limited to 120 kilometers, the limit as design speed, but can go as fast as 150 kilometers. So the difference, maybe 20 kilometers difference, or maybe 40 kilometers, and you are paying $11 billion for just 40 kilometers difference.
“When do we start thinking as Nigerians, when we do that, that $11 billion, we’ll use it to build hospitals, we’ll use it to build roads to Calabar, to build roads to Sokoto, why do we start talking when the difference is just speed of about 40 kilometers difference.
“So, if it takes you one hour to get to your base and it takes me one hour 40 minutes. I think Nigeria I’m very determined.
“I need to say this, the President refused to approve this narrow gauge decision for more than two to three years, he was insisted on standard gauge. I have to put pressure for it” Amechi revealed.
The minister further stated that the President insisted that all the railway lines must terminate at a sea port. He said that the Presidential directives led to the adjustment that made the Eastern corridor to take-off from Bonny Deep Seaport and tee off into all the states in the South East and up to Maiduguri.
He said, “One thing that is unique about all these contracts is that the President has directed that all the lines must terminate at the sea port. That’s why, if you see, there may be a bit of adjustment in the pricing, because we had to adjust the model to link up to Lagos, and kind of handle Lagos, so that they can terminate at the Lagos seaport. If not, we’ll just end that with the north or south of Kano but we said it must be linked to the Kano, Lagos rail lines.
“So like he said, all our rails must terminate at the seaport, to Bonny where we’re building a new seaport, a new deep seaport that will convey goods and passengers all the way to Gashau.
“Now, it will start off from Bonny then continue to Enugu then tee off, if we get approval from the President and cabinet to tee off to Awka, and to Abakaliki and continues to Jos, and then join the one going to Kaduna continues to Bauchi to Gombe to Yobe and Gashau”.
He said that the Ministry has procured seven new SH Coaches for train services on Itakpe-Warri route, six new standard guage locomotives, nine freight locomotives, two diesel shunters, two DMU and 44 coaches.
Amechi said that the Ministry further upgraded Microwave Communication Equipment with 72 Repeater Sites to provide backbone services for Automated Train Warranty (ATW) Signalling System, intercommunication within the railway network, passenger information, CCTV and internet services.
Present at the event were Minister of State for Transportation Sen. Gbemisola Saraki, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Hon. Linda Ikpeazu.
The head of agencies under the ministry also made presentations about the status of their stewardship.