Why FG is not building new standard gauge lines in Eastern rail corridor – Amaechi

Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi inspecting one of the rail projects

FILE: Amaechi, in white, inspecting the Lagos – Ibadan railway project

By Aisha Cole

The Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, has  explained why the Federal Government decided to rehabilitate the existing narrow gauge lines in Eastern rail corridor rather than build completely new standard gauge lines as being done in other parts of the country.

The Minister also disputed claims that the narrow gauge lines were inferior, sub-standard and outdated in other parts of the world by some stakeholders.

The stakeholders had accused the minister of recommending the narrow gauge to the federal government instead of the standard gauge to maximise the benefits of modern rail transportation.

But he explained that the Eastern rail line was going to have both the narrow and standard gauges, adding that the cost of the standard gauge, feasibility and time frame informed the choice.

The minister said it was cheaper to rehabilitate the narrow gauge, which would cost about $3.2 billion dollars, and could be delivered within the approved time frame.

Amaechi said that the standard gauge lines was going to cost about $11 to 14 billion dollars to construct, adding that getting the funds within the limited time was not feasible because of other projects awaiting funding.

“The standard gauge line is between $11 to 14 billion dollars to construct on the Eastern flag, the standard gauge as designed in Nigeria is 150km design speed, operational speed is 120km; what is the difference between 120km and 100km? The narrow gauge is about $3.2 billion dollars at 100km per hour.

“The standard gauge, which is at $11 to $14 billion dollars, is 120km per hour. So if you take off with the standard gauge let’s say to Damaturu, you will arrive 20 minute before me that use the narrow gauge.

“The narrow gauge is cheaper at $3 billion against the $11 to $14 billion to construct the standard gauge. Why we did not get the approval for the narrow gauge on time was because the President’s insistence on the standard gauge from Port Harcourt-Maiduguri.

“My argument was if I can achieve the same length of rail with $3 billion dollars, why not take that first until when we get money, we can now go for the standard gauge.

“The difference made him approved the standard gauge as designed but until we get the money, because if we continue to wait until we get the $11 billion to &14 billion, we may not be able to construct the Eastern flag before we leave government,” Ameachi said.

On his part, the Managing Director, Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), Mr Fidet Okhria, said that the narrow gauge line was not outdated or less efficient, stating that there should not be a  comparison.

Okhiria said that Nigeria was the first African country to introduce standard gauge line, noting that South Africa and other African countries still use the narrow gauge lines.

“In the whole of Africa, Nigeria is the only country that has introduced a standard gauge line.

“South Africa, India and other countries are still using the narrow guage lines introduced by their colonial masters, other African countries are still using what the colonial masters constructed.

“The Eastern rail line has both the standard and the narrow gauge lines to be constructed; the narrow gauge will be rehabilitated now because the fund is available but the reality of getting the $13 billion now to construct the standard gauge line is not feasible.

“So, the narrow gauge is not inferior in anyway, the difference is in the speed and it cannot carry more load like the standard gauge because the standard gauge is wider while the narrow guage is narrower which doesn’t make it less effective than the standard gauge.

“About the cost, there should be no comparison with the cost because one is $13 billion while the other is about $3.2 billion, $10 billion difference.”

The Director, Rail and Transport Services, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Mr Muhammad Baba-Kobi, also said that the difference between the narrow and the standard gauge rail lines is the width within the inner edge of the track which is called the gauge.

He said that the narrow gauge in Nigeria is about 1,067mm which is about 3ft, in some countries it is 600mm which is 2ft while the standard gauge is 1,437mm which is a little bit more than 4ft.

Baba-Kobi said that there were other gauges like the Broad Gauge with 1,670mm and the 2,000mm gauge with a wider distance.

He explained that the use of any of the gauges is by choice, noting that places with hilly and curve terrain like Port Harcourt-Maiduguri corridor, the narrow gauge would be the best because it is easy to negotiate curves and it is lighter.

“The choice of one or the other relies on certain factors, either you put the standard or narrow gauge, you will still have an efficient and functional trains; it just depends on your operational planning, it depends on where you want to take your train to.

“But technically,  in most places where you have hilly roads that you have to negotiate into valleys, hills and places with curves, the best in terms of Engineering for that terrain is the narrow gauge because it is lighter, easy to navigate curves that are smaller and the engine can easily thrive.

“Talking on the speed, it depends on how the locomotive is powered. Narrow gauge doesn’t mean it is inferior, just a choice that you make purely from the kind of terrain you are passing through; in some places narrow gauge is more expensive than the standard gauge,” he said.

Baba-Kobi maintained that the narrow gauge was the best choice, aside the cost, considering the terrain of the Eastern rail line because of the hills and curves.