The ACN speed rail project

August 23, 2011

A.C.N Chairman Akandeone of the most significant presentations at the last Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Governors Retreat held in Benin City is the proposal for the building of a bullet train to link the South West with Edo State. This according to the prime movers, will reduce the journey between Lagos to Benin City to 48 minutes, writes, Jacobson Nasamu

It was a scheduled item for presentation but by the time it was tabled, it elicited a near gloomy embrace. Not one of the five ACN governors and one deputy governor present showed beyond a passing interest in the high speed rail project, designed to revolutionalise transportation link between the Western and Midwestern states of Nigeria.

The occasion was the retreat organised for Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governors in Benin City recently. Present were the host, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Governors Babatunde Fashola of Lagos,  Senator Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo, Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun and Mrs. Grace Laoye-Tomori, deputy governor of Osun State.

Chaired by former Governor of Ekiti State, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, the retreat also had in attendance National Chairman of ACN, Chief Bisi Akande, Vice Chairman, South South, Pastor Ize Iyamu, National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and other chieftains of the party.

However, the noticeable lack of the anticipated enthusiastic response may have been due in part to the unimpressive manner the presentation was conducted. Done by representatives of proposers of the project, Hammcobtb Engineering, trading in Nigeria as Hammco Engineering Works Limited, it was largely marred by projector failure and microphone malfunction. Some of those who responded to the idea even mistook it for the planned Coastal Highway from Lagos to Calabar, which is also expected to have a railway line.

But “THE GREAT WESTERN” high speed rail project is one project that demands deep reflection not only by the governors of the old Western Nigeria but by the federal government.

The Western and Southern parts of Nigeria constitute a major movement area in Nigeria as a hub of sea, air and land transportation.  Major agricultural and commercial activities originate and flow through this region and as the economic nerve centre of the nation, efficient and free flow of people and produce is a prerequisite for both economic and political development.

Interestingly, past governments, both in the Western part and the nation generally have paid lip-service to transforming the various sectors of the economy. Empty promises from the governments; negligence and neglect of infrastructure; corruption and decadence have characterised our national life. The result has been loss of hope, backwardness of the region and hunger and poverty in the midst of plenty.

This is compounded by the fact that existing transport system within this region has been inadequate. The poor infrastructure has also proven to be unable to support rapid socio-economic expansion, thus limiting the movement of people and farm produce to market locations within the region.

With an under-achieving transportation network, characterised by bad stretches, insufficient road networks, a poorly developed water ways, an inefficient air transport system coupled with moribund rail lines, there is the utmost need for a modern and efficient high speed rail transportation system to enhance long-term growth of other developmental processes like power generation and distribution.

Designed as a loop within the western part of the country, the high speed rail project will  cover a distance of 800 kilometres through major industrial and commercial centres. It would also accommodate growth potentials with expansion into new arteries as well as extension into other regions of the country.  Expectedly, it will facilitate major industrialisation of the area. It will also improve transportation of agricultural produce and create immediate political awareness for further emancipation of the people.

So why really did the governors not show much interest in the presentation?  Could it be that they were scared by the cost?

According to Hammcobtb Engineering, it had put together a team of consultants to oversee the design, construction specification and implement the fast rail route. An initial evaluation, they said, had been made, potential technical partners identified and necessary contacts made on the project. The average cost of the high speed rail system covering a distance of 800 kilometres in a loop within the terrain of the South West is put at about $57 billion with a completion time of 156 weeks.

This cost, as high as it may appear, is not expected to be borne by the respective governments alone or even at all.  The encouragement of public-private partnership in various forms and scales seem to be a key policy in financing all types of transport infrastructure. This will ease the burden of maintaining and expanding transportation facilities which has simply grown too great to be borne solely by tax-payers and government.

The rail project, therefore, will be funded through a public-private initiative, which presupposes that the project when completed will be run on a commercially viable basis through private sector investors. This should guarantee timely completion, efficient management of the rail system, and uninterrupted pay-back of project cost.

The involvement of the various governments may be limited to expressing interest in writing  which should enable Hammcobtb Engineering bring in foreign investors; assistance in obtaining necessary permits from the federal government; release of right of way and the execution of a Board of Trustees (BOT) agreement for the project.

In view of the great prospect of the project, the governments of the South West should give the proposal its due consideration and lend their weight as a measure of commitment via a letter of expression of interest which should facilitate Hammcobtb‘s  further negotiations with “international parties already identified for the project”.

According to the engineering company, it has “relationship with fund providers from South Africa and Canada who have indicated firm interest in funding this project”.

Hammcobtb‘s proposal should be revisited by a technical committee set up by the governors concerned to study and properly advise them on the viability and its overall benefit not only to the states of the West but to the nation as a whole.

The high speed rail service with a speed of about 250 kilometres an hour is expected to open up the rural areas for easy access for development as well as aid and sustain all other developmental reforms in the region by the present visionary leaders of the western part of the country.

The creation of a safe, efficient and affordable transport system will increase the quality of life of the people.  Such a project is bound to decongest the cities as most of those who work in Lagos, Ibadan and other cities and towns within the region would prefer to live in their villages or other towns far away and commute to the cities to work.

Our highways would, therefore, be decongested of the heavy vehicular movement presently being experienced particularly in Lagos.  These are generally the needs of the people and any government which can identify and meet the most pressing needs of its populace is guaranteed continuous support.  Meeting the needs of the people is an insurance policy for any government to stay in power.

There is no doubt, the governors of the South West are visionary and have a burning passion to take their states to a higher level and make the region a pacesetter once again.  This is one project which should help them achieve a higher quality of life for the people and return the region to the glorious days of yore