’NO NATION has achieved holistic development without a coherent, integrated, efficient and reliable transportation system’, explained Nigerian President Olusegum Obasanjo on August 9, setting out his vision for the revitalisation of his country’s 3500 km rail network in a special radio broadcast.

The Bureau of Public Enterprises has already commissioned CPCS Transcom to draw up three operating concessions (RG 7.06 p373), but Obasanjo said that ’even this requires minimal rehabilitation to get value for money from concessionaires.’

Responding to a State Council report released on July 19 that recommended complete reconstruction and conversion from 1067mm gauge to standard at a cost of US$8·3bn, the President agreed that work should start immediately. ’By the grace of God, contract formalities will be signed this month and construction work will commence immediately thereafter’, he announced.

Work is to begin with the 1126 km Lagos - Kano corridor, to be undertaken in five stages over four years for US$1bn, funded by a US$2·5bn soft loan from China. A new line is to be built for 100 km from Minna to Abuja, continuing for 205 km beyond the capital to Kaduna. Phase II would see reconstruction of the Port Harcourt - Jos route.

Design-Build-Maintain contracts are to be let for reconstruction to permit 150 km/h passenger and 80 km/h freight trains, with a maximum gradient of 1·5% and a minimum curve radius of 1200m. Diesel traction, electronic interlockings and a 23 tonne axleload are envisaged.

’The construction of the rail line will employ tens of thousands of Nigerians immediately’, Obasanjo explained. ’The entire project will promote technology transfer, the building of new skills and the development of allied industries. As far as possible, local materials will be used.’

No-one disputes that a new impetus is badly needed. NRC traffic has collapsed from 11·3 million passengers and 2·9 million tonnes of freight in 1964 to 1·6 million passengers and less than 100000 tonnes last year. There was a brief upturn in 1979-82 when Rites was brought in to run the railway by the former military regime. But a recent review found just five locomotives in working order. The only lines currently operating are those from Lagos to Kano and Port Harcourt to Madiguri.

It remains to be seen whether the government can muster the commitment and resources to complete the work this time, or whether it will fade away like so many previous revival attempts over the past four decades.