The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi has said the Federal Government requires the sum of $656 million to complete work on the Lagos-Ibadan railway project.
Amaechi disclosed this on Friday while defending his ministry’s 2021 budget at the Senate.
He explained that the amount is needed to put the necessary infrastructure in place for the project to serve its intended purpose.
“Some aspects of works involving the construction of upgraded railway station, signalling and telecommunication systems, power supply scheme and the construction of pedestrian and overpass bridges have to be completed,” he said.
“These additional and extra works amounting to $656 million which is to be financed 100 percent by the Federal Government of Nigeria has been approved by the Federal Executive Council for implementation.”
The Minister also told the lawmakers that the construction of the project is 92 percent close to completion.
He however lamented that the work was disrupted following the #EndSARS protests that shook most parts of the country.
Amaechi noted that the Ibadan-Kano railway project also required an injection of $645.3million as advance payment to enable the Federal Government to complete its loan signing agreement with the China Exim Bank.
According to him, the Ministry would commence the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Port-Harcourt-Maiduguri Eastern Narrow Gauge railways in 2021.
Britain’s privatised railway sector that drove the Industrial Revolution and was rescued by the state in March owing to coronavirus-ravaged demand, faces a major overhaul under government plans unveiled Monday.
While UK train services will continue to be run mainly by private companies, the franchising system will be replaced by Emergency Recovery Management Agreements (ERMA) as the virus derails demand, the government said.
The Department for Transport said it would continue to cover losses suffered by private rail operators over the next 18 months, extending a system begun following the start of the virus outbreak in Britain.
“Ministers today ended rail franchising after 24 years as the first step in bringing Britain’s fragmented network back together,” the DfT said in a statement.
“The new system will create a simpler, more effective structure and will take shape over the coming months.”
The franchising system has been long-criticised by passenger groups, who accuse private companies of charging excessive fares for regularly-delayed train services despite earning large state-subsidies.
Despite long-standing government help, the taxpayer has in recent years been forced to take over several franchises that ran into financial trouble, such as Northern Trains and London North Eastern Railway.
– ‘No longer working’ –
With Covid-19 decimating passenger demand, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has already paid out a reported £3.5 billion ($4.5 billion, 3.8 billion euros) to support private rail operators.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps indicated Monday said that the privatised rail model was not working in the current climate, as many commuters choose to work at home and travellers cancel their plans.
“The model of privatisation adopted 25 years ago has seen significant rises in passenger numbers, but this pandemic has proven that it is no longer working,” Shapps said.
The new system will keep the best elements of the private sector but add better direction and accountability, he insisted.
And the DfT warned: “Until passenger numbers return, significant taxpayer support will still be needed.”
Rail operators will still be paid management fees for running services under the ERMA system — but these will be lower than under emergency measures that were implemented in March.
Keith Williams, a former British Airways boss commissioned by the government to review the sector, welcomed the new strategy.
“These new agreements represent the end of the complicated franchising system, demand more from the expertise and skills of the private sector, and ensure passengers return to a more punctual and co-ordinated railway,” he said.
However, trade unions slammed the move, which is the first major sector-wide overhaul since the Conservatives privatised British Rail in the mid-1990s.
“This announcement should now force the government’s hand and lead them to face up to what has been staring them in the face for the best part of three decades,” said Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Cash.
“Public ownership is the only model that works and can steer us through a crisis such as Covid-19,” he added.
Lawmaker Tan Dhesi, rail spokesman for the opposition Labour party, argued it was “completely unacceptable” that taxpayers continue to pay “hundreds of millions of pounds” in management fees to private rail companies — and urged the government to bring all rail services back into public ownership.
A heated argument ensued on Monday between the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Treaties, Agreements and Protocols, Nicholas Ossai.
The committee is investigating the $500billion loan agreement between Nigeria and China for the Federal Government’s rail projects.
While the public hearing was ongoing, Amaechi said Nigeria was very unlikely to get the remaining loans from China because of the investigations being carried out by the House.
He accused the Committee of pursuing a political agenda, alleging that Ossai had approached him on the South-South Rail Project.
Following the increasing rise in Amaechi’s tone, the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, stormed the venue of the hearing and called for a 30-minute break.
The minister was later discharged and asked to reappear before the lawmakers on Tuesday at 12 noon.
This is the second time the Minister would be summoned before the Committee over the foreign loan meant for railway projects.
On July 29, he appealed to the National Assembly to halt its probe of the 500 million dollars loan from the Chinese government.
Amaechi warned that the loan which is meant for the completion of the Federal Government’s rail projects may be truncated by the Chinese government if it suspects that there is a disagreement between the executive and the legislature.
He also argued that constant probing or investigation may suggest that an arm of the government does not agree with the loan and may cause the Chinese government to withdraw it.
Amaechi noted that while the lawmakers have the powers to conduct such a probe, he begged them to do so after Nigeria has obtained the loan to prevent the proposed projects from suffering a setback.
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi has appeared before the House of Representatives Public Hearing on Treaties and Protocols.
Speaking during the hearing in Abuja on Monday, Amaechi disagreed with the committee, saying he is unaware of a N33 billion contract by the Ministry of Transport but only a $1.6 billion contract.
He said the action of the committee is political.
The minister who appeared before the committee for a second time maintained his position that Nigeria is now very unlikely to get the remaining loans from China due to the investigations being carried out by the House.
According to him, the committee probe suggested that the different arms of government do no support the loan.
The committee is also interested in the number of Nigerians and Chinese involved in the Federal Government rail project.
Amaechi’s comments come three weeks after he begged the lawmakers to halt its probe of the 500 million dollars loan from the Chinese government.
He warned that the loan which is meant for the completion of the Federal Government’s rail projects may be truncated by the Chinese government if it suspects that there is a disagreement between the executive and the legislature.
While noting the lawmakers have the powers to conduct such a probe, he appealed to them to do so after Nigeria has obtained the loan to prevent the proposed projects from suffering a setback.
“The investigation being carried out by the National Assembly may frustrate the loan agreement between us and China on the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri rail project.
“We have the approval to construct the Lagos-Ibadan, Lagos-Kano and Lagos-Calabar rail lines; we are also at the point of negotiating for the loans.”
“Summoning us to the National Assembly to come and address the loans would look like the government is no longer interested in the loan,” the minister said.
The Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, has warned Nigerians to always wear nose masks and have sanitisers.
Speaking during a briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Amaechi said he is “dead scared” as he knows people who have died from the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.
The Minister, who appeared at the regular PTF briefing for the first time, held up a sanitiser during his speech.
According to him, the Federal Government will ensure that travellers using the nation’s railway system must always use their face masks and hold their sanitisers as well.
Amaechi explained that he opened the railway from Abuja to Kaduna because of pressure for the Sallah holiday, stressing no masks, no boarding.
“If anybody has ever seen me in public without this (referring to the Santiser), let the person raise up his hand. The reason is that I have seen people die of COVID-19, so I am dead scared.
“If you ask the last speaker, I refused to agree that we should open the railways. It is the pressure of those who want to participate in the forthcoming spiritual activities that made me accept that we will open the railway from Abuja to Kaduna.
“We don’t want to see how handsome or beautiful you are. Please wear for me a face mask, not a mouth mask. If you wear a mouth mask, the train will stop and you will come down.”
Speaking further, the Minister explained that security has been beefed ahead of the Sallah celebrations in a few days’ time.
He, however, insisted that any traveller that wears a face shield without a face mask will be denied entry into the railway.
The Senate has called on the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, commence rehabilitation of the Eastern rail line.
This was even as the upper chamber mandated its Committee on Land Transport to interface with the relevant Ministry and agency.
These formed parts of resolutions reached during plenary on Tuesday sequel to the consideration of a motion sponsored by Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (APC – Abia North).
In his presentation, Senator Kalu noted that one of the greatest challenges facing the nation as an emerging economy is poor infrastructural development, adding that, “the movement of goods and persons from one point to another is becoming very cumbersome, if not hazardous.”
According to him, the Federal Government in recognition of the fact that there is a dire need for transformation of the Nigerian Railway system into a more dynamic and functional one, encouraged the use of rail to reduce road traffic congestion problems and open up the sector to private sector investment.
“The Federal Government in 2017 entered into an agreement with General Electric, a Boston, United States-based company, under the Rehabilitation and the Concessioning of Western and Eastern Railway lines to connect Abia, Rivers, Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Kwara, Kaduna, Katsina, Enugu, Bauchi, Gombe, Plateau, Borno, Yobe and Kano States.
“And while the Western lines of 1,126 km are from Lagos to Kano and to Nguru 230 km, Funtua, and Kaura Namoda 121 km. The Eastern lines are from Port Harcourt to Kaduna 915 km, Maiduguri 706 km, 105 35 km,” he said.
Kalu lamented that “the Federal Executive Council is yet to give approval for the commencement which leaves not just the government as losers but all host communities to the rail line from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri.”
He also expressed concerns that the non-existence of an airport or inland port in the whole of Abia State, with its high volume of commercial activities, poses a serious hindrance to the export and import of goods.
Reacting to Senator Kalu’s concerns, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, directed the Committee on Legislative Compliance to ensure compliance by the Federal Government and report back in three weeks for further legislative action.
India has opened up its vast railway sector to private companies, allowing firms to operate trains on certain routes, in a bid to boost its stuttering, virus-hit economy.
The 167-year-old train network carries 20 million passengers daily but is plagued by deadly accidents, rickety infrastructure, lack of modern amenities and poor investment.
In an announcement late Wednesday, the railway ministry said it would now permit businesses to run trains along 109 routes, inviting bids from firms weeks after New Delhi opened up coal mining to the private sector.
“This is the first initiative of private investment for running passenger trains over Indian Railways network,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The objective of this initiative is to introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance, reduced transit time, boost job creation, provide enhanced safety, provide world class travel experience to passengers,” it added.
The project will require an investment of $4 billion and private players will have to pay the government fixed haul charges and a percentage of profits determined during the bidding process.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to privatise a range of industries that have been under state control for decades, sparking criticism from the opposition Congress party.
“Now the government is in a desperate mood to sell a great chunk of one of our largest national asset #IndianRailways,” Congress politician Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury tweeted.
“Privatization cannot be construed as a panacea of railways malady”, he added.
The tottering network is notorious for accidents, with 15,000 passengers killed every year according to a 2012 government report that described the deaths as a “massacre”.
Asia’s third-largest economy has been clobbered by the pandemic and a months-long lockdown, growing at its slowest pace in at least two decades last quarter.
The shutdown, which put millions out of work overnight, is widely expected to plunge the country into recession.
Fears for the economy prompted the government to allow many businesses to resume operations starting last month despite an ongoing increase in infections, which have now crossed 600,000.
Even before Modi announced the lockdown in late March, the economy was struggling to gain traction with sluggish growth, record unemployment and a flurry of bad loans making banks reluctant to lend.
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, on Monday, said the government will not further increase ticket prices on the Abuja-Kaduna rail route, in order to accommodate the poor.
The Minister, who made the comment during an interview on Sunrise Daily, noted he is aware of calls to increase the ticket prices, to ensure the railway makes enough profit to pay back the loans incurred in its construction and become sustainable.
But Amaechisaid railways don’t make profits (from passenger ticket prices) across the world because they are usually subsidised.
“If we increase the cost of the tickets, what about the poor man that wants to move from Abuja to Kaduna? What about the poor man who works in Abuja and lives in Kaduna to save the cost of accommodation,” he said.
“So, usually, all over the world, you subsidise railway, so that the poor can have an easy means for transportation so that you improve your economy. Don’t forget, the railway is built not for passenger transportation, it is built as a means to grow the economy of a country.
“The economy will pay for it. Take the numbers of businesses that you grow across that line, take the numbers of companies you’ve established, take the taxes they pay to you.”
Solving Ticket Racketeering
Meanwhile, to solve the problem of ticket racketeering on the Abuja-Kaduna rail route, the Minister said the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) is set to roll out new locomotives and coaches.
He explained that the number of coaches and locomotives earlier deployed to the route was for 300 passengers daily.
“Traffic count as at the time we deployed those coaches was 300. So, every day you move 300 passengers,” he said. “And suddenly there is a spike. You have 3,700 passengers per day with the same number of locomotives and coaches for 300 people, so what do you do?
“Don’t forget that the coaches and locomotives are not things you just go to the shop and buy. No, you have to manufacture, you have to fabricate. It took us nearly two years to fabricate the new coaches and locomotives that are just arriving now.”
Lagos-Ibadan Route Delay
On the Lagos-Ibadan railway, the Minister declined to give a deadline for the route’s completion.
“We agreed I should not talk about deadlines anymore,” he said, referring to the Chinese contractors in charge of the project, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation.
“What they told us the first time was April 2020. But they ran into problems. Their goods were yet to be cleared from the seaport. But the Director of Nigeria Ports Authority helped get their goods to berth.
“Now they are clearing. Because of that delay in clearing the cargoes they need to build stations, do the signalling and communications – they’ve completed tracks. I used the tracks to Ibadan and back. But that’s not what the railway is. You have to deal with signalling, terminals and all that. Now that all that has been discharged from the seaports, we hope that they will complete it according to the time they gave me – I won’t tell anybody the time; I will keep it to myself.
“There is an improvement, now, in the pace of work. They’ve cleared the items they need to complete the stations and signalling. The pace of work has improved. Manpower has also increased.”
The Senate President, however, stated that the lawmakers would pressure the Federal Government on the need to pay attention to making the rail system functional.
He also assured the Niger State government that the 9th Assembly would play its role in ensuring that federal roads in the state were fixed.
On security, Senator Lawan said the Senate was united and focused on pursuing common goals irrespective of political party differences.
He added that this was to ensure that issues of insecurity, poverty, unemployment and other social vices bedevilling the growth of the country were tackled collectively.
In his address, Governor Abubakar Bello appealed to the Senate President to consider giving Niger State the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Works.
He gave assurance that his administration would work with all the three senators in the state, as well as both members of the National and State Assemblies to ensure the state develops.
The governor noted that the strategic senatorial action plan of Senator Sani was a demonstration of such synergy.
On his part, Senator Sani informed the gathering that his priority would be to empower his constituents with quality education and ensure the revival of the Child Rights Act, to guarantee the protection of children from molestation.
He also promised to support legislation that would promote family welfare, and whatever efforts the state government would make in the areas of health, road rehabilitation, construction, and security.
The event had in attendance the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo Agege; Deputy Senate Chief Whip, Senator Sabi Aliyu Abdullahi, and Senator Bamidele Opeyemi among others.
At least 11 people were killed and nearly 80 injured when two trains collided in central Pakistan early Thursday, officials said.
The incident took place in Rahim Yar Khan district in Punjab province when a passenger train coming from the eastern city of Lahore rammed into a goods train that had stopped at a crossing, a senior government official said.
A senior Pakistan Railways official gave AFP the toll, adding: “We fear the death toll will rise as rescue teams are still cutting (through) the wreckage.”
Earlier, local police officer Omar Salamat told TV channel Geo News that dozens had been taken to nearby hospitals.
“The condition of three to four passengers is critical,” he said.
Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where the railways have seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment.
TV footage from the site showed the heavily damaged train engine and carriages, as emergency workers and local people used metal-cutting tools and heavy cranes.
Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, the country’s minister for railways told TV channel Aaj that an investigation had been launched to determine the causes of the incident.
Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted his condolences, adding: “Have asked Railways Minister to take emergency steps to counter decades of neglect of railway infrastructure & ensure safety standards.”
Also on Thursday at least nine passengers were killed and 22 injured when a speeding bus overturned near the capital Islamabad, a police official said, while a landslide in the northwestern Swat valley killed six people, all from one family.