Nigeria: Rail project to improve Lagos commute

By Temitayo Lawal

Posted on Tuesday, 14 March 2023 16:50
President Muhammadu Buhari officially commissioned the Lagos Blue Line Rail on 24 January 2023 (photo: @Opetuyii)

The Ikeja, Lagos bus and train crash carrying commuters to their jobs last Thursday killed at least six people and left several others in critical condition. Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said the tragedy could have been prevented. The Lagos government BRT bus carrying 85 passengers crossed onto the train tracks, where it was hit by the train. The accident shows the congestion-related problems Lagos is trying to remedy.

While the train involved in the crash was part of the federal government line, a new 13km Blue rail line built by the Lagos state government is the first phase of a 27km train track which is expected to transport not fewer than 500,000 passengers per day.

Also planned for completion in the first quarter of this year is the Red line project.

These two rail lines are part of the six rail lines and one monorail that is in the Lagos state government’s transport master plan designed to ease traffic congestion and catapult the state to a megacity.

The overarching plan, which redesigned and expanded the earlier plan for the cancelled metro line to include 14 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors, key regional roads and over 20 water routes, is credited to President-elect Bola Tinubu while he was the governor of Lagos.

But since he drafted the plan and then established Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) in 2002, the state has only been able to deliver a line and a half.

“The road to the completion of this project, no doubt, has had an interesting story of delays, which were not due to a lack of enthusiasm or commitment on the part of the state government. Now, we have put the challenges behind us; from now on, we will focus on the benefits of this project for our people,” said Sanwo-Olu.

Faster delivery

The delivery of the first phase of the Blue line alone has taken 13 years. CCECC, the Chinese construction consortium that built it, has identified funding shortages, hikes in material prices, and the Covid-19 pandemic as some of the delay factors. The second phase is 14km long.

“Delivery was slowed largely due to funding constraints and the administration before this one was not actively committed to it – practically suspended all actions on the project,” Muda Yusuf, economist and Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise CEO, tells The Africa Report.

He adds that it will help a great deal if the state can improve on funding, especially through Public Private Partnerships (PPP). In addition to that, he submits that the government must also commit to continuity in order to avoid delays. “The more the project is delayed the more it becomes expensive.”

To complete the first phase of the Blue line, the government has had to partner with Access Bank Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc and Sterling Bank Plc under a funding framework worked out by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Gbenga Omotoso, Lagos State Commissioner of Information tells The Africa Report that the state “will continue to work with investors and key financial stakeholders to deliver on future rail projects”.

He adds that to show the government’s commitment to easing traffic congestion in the state, it prioritised the construction of the Green line from Marina to Lekki Free Trade Zone and the Purple line from Redeem to Ojo.

The Lekki Free Trade Zone houses Nigeria’s first deep seaport, Dangote Refinery and a manufacturing hub which is being positioned to service the continent. Ojo is home to some of Lagos’s major markets like the Alaba International Market while Redeem is named after one of Nigeria’s biggest churches and is on the outskirts of Lagos where a lot of Lagos workers reside.

Congestion woes

Lagos state has 11 cities with more than a million residents. It is referred to as a megacity because residents of these millionaire cities move around to transact business with one another every day. Furthermore, there has been a sustained influx of people from other parts of Nigeria to Lagos in pursuit of greener pastures – over 6,000 people migrate to Lagos daily.

“There is no city in the world that is as densely populated as Lagos that doesn’t have a functioning rail system; that is how you can make the economy of the state run efficiently,” says Yusuf.

Productivity losses are also a product of congestion. For Lagos, with no shortage of skilled labour, congestion stifles productivity and the pace of growth that it should experience. The 2015 UN-Habitat Prosperity Index surveyed 11 African cities and rated Lagos the lowest in productivity and infrastructure.

The Lagos commissioner believes that travel time will be significantly reduced when the rail lines start operating, which will convert drivers to using public transport.

“The Blue rail line will take about 20 to 25 minutes as opposed to close to two hours [travel by road time]. This will cause car users to shift to public transport thereby reducing cars on the road. Likewise, the Red line from Agbado to Oyingbo will take about 30 minutes as opposed to two to three hours,” Omotoso says.

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