The Federal Government on Monday announced that commercial activities will begin on the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line in June next year.
According to the government, the rail line connecting about five states has been abandoned for over 30 years.
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, told journalists during an inspection tour of rail lines that the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail project had been budgeted for by the current administration.
He said the contract had been awarded in two phases, adding, “The first one was awarded in 1987. We have a directive from the Federal Government that we must complete the rail line and it was put in this year’s budget. By the end of December last year, we had disbursed some money to the contractors, Julius Berger and others, to commence work. So, we have come to see how far.
“We are constructing bridges too in order to reduce contact with human beings who would try to cross the track because this is a speed lane. Once it starts, it is going to be 120 kilometres to 150 kilometres per hour and the chances of killing human beings are going to be higher than the narrow gauge because it is a standard gauge.”
Amaechi also said, “This contract, depending on who you are talking to, some will say 30 years while others will say 34 years, but whatever year it is, we need to get this place functioning and the directive of the Federal Government is that we should start and our target is that by June, commercial activities will resume.”
He said the government might award some vandalised portions of the rail line to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, adding, “We are hoping that the CCECC would be able to finish before May 2018.”
The minister said, “Also, there are no stations; so, the CCECC will have to build stations. Julius Berger was handling the project before but it said it could not continue because it had demobilised and taken all its equipment back to France.
“They (Julius Berger) can’t start bringing equipment back again because it would cost us more than to take a contractor that is in Nigeria and has all the equipment and can fix it because standard gauge is standard gauge anywhere; there is no magic about it.”
Amaechi said Julius Berger would complete all other civil work it started and that the firm was on site to complete the highlighted portions.
On the cost implication, he said, “I can’t tell you about that because it was awarded in 1987 and later in 1994 and they were in phases. What is important now is that the Federal Government is determined to complete it so that we can have train on this track by June next year.”
Meanwhile, the construction work on the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail line is set to begin soon as the first batch of 6,000 tonnes of rails out of 45,000 for the project will be ready for shipment to Nigeria from China next week.
The Chief Project Coordinator, Mr. Leo Yin, said this in Lagos on Monday during a visit to the Nigerian Railway Corporation headquarters by the Senate Committees on Land Transport, and Local and Foreign Debts.
He also said that 700 workers out of 7,000 workforce required for the project had been mobilised.
Yin, who said only 85 per cent of advanced payment had been released, noted that the delay in the release of the counterpart funding had been a major challenge to the execution of the project.
The committee chairmen, Senators Gbenga Ashafa (Land Transport) and Shehu Sani (Local and Foreign Debts), who visited the site at Agege alongside other members of the committees, said they were impressed with the progress of work.
The committees, however, directed the Ministry of Transportation to submit to the secretariats detailed work plan for the project with feasible timelines for actualising the different stages of the work.
The Federal Government, which awarded the N458bn project to the CCECC, had earlier given the end of 2018 for new rail line to commence operation. The plan is to connect it to the recently inaugurated Abuja-Kaduna rail and take the double line to Kano.