Experts in the transport sector have advised the Federal Government to repeal the 1955 Railway Act, to allow private sector involvement in Nigeria’s rail services.
The experts said in separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), that the Act had stalled development in Nigeria’s rail transportation, as it empowered only the Federal Government to construct rail tracks and run train services.
They noted that only the AbujaKaduna line was added to the 3,505 kilometers of rail line inherited since independence, 60 years ago.
The stakeholders argued that increased investment in the country’s rail transport would boost the nation’s economy, reduce pressure on road infrastructure and loss of lives and properties due to traffic crashes, and increase the lifespan of roads.
Dr Joshua Adeleye, Head Transport Research and Intelligence, Nigeria Institute of Transport Technology Zaria, said that the monopoly in the system due to the Railway Act has made the rail sector obsolete and stagnant.
“The Act says only the federal government could construct rail track and run train services in the country”, he told NAN. He noted that Britain that brought the rail transport system into Nigeria had since the early 80’s, repealed its Railway Act to open the industry for full participation of the private sector.
He said in the United Kingdom, there are close to 50 operating companies and about 20 railway infrastructure companies being driven by the private sector.
Adeleye said that Nigeria needed to open up the industry to allow private sector participation by amending or repealing the Act to “allow the railway to be on the concurrent list.”
The new Act should focus on using rail transport to transform the socio-economic ecosystem of Nigeria, Adeleye said, adding that the sector has to be market oriented and open to private capital.
He advised that the new law should allow state governments and the private sector to construct or partner with investors to set up rail lines, while the Federal Government oversees safety regulations and compliance to standard.
“This has been done in the air transport system whereby you have private terminals in Lagos and some airports in the country,’’ he said.
He said that it was necessary to break government monopoly in order to make the rail system market oriented, offering efficient services to customers.
Adeleye noted that the innovations would help to create jobs and boost the economy, as more companies come into the sector.
He noted that funding by government alone cannot sustain the rail system, hence the need to attract private investors.
“The investor may not afford to construct rail lines, government could do that and ask the private sector to run the services in compliance with Nigerian standard.
“That is the contemporary practice, but unfortunately it is not what we are doing in Nigeria now.
“It is good we have the Chinese funding rail projects, but if we continue to operate under the 1955 Act, the quality of service would not be efficient,’’ he said.
According to him, the fortune of rail transport system started going down in the late 70’s due to technological advancement and the dynamic nature of transport system.
“Initially, the early locomotives in the rail transport system were the steam powered engine, later it moved to diesel engine and today we are talking about electric engine.
“The administration of railway in Nigeria has not been as dynamic as it is supposed to be.
“The speed of change in terms of administration, technological advancement and technological transfer of knowledge acquired over time, has not been as rapid as it is supposed to be.
“These and the political will were part of the reasons why the fortune of rail transport system gradually nosedived.
“Over the years, we have been having successive governments that are not interested in rail transport especially in the late 70’s.
When Nigeria was expanding the road network, the rail component was neglected.
“The colonial administrators were able to construct about 3505 kilometers of rail line that is how we left it since independence in the 1960’s if not because of AbujaKaduna rail line.
Considering the size of Nigeria, that was insignificant.” Adeleye also said that the capital intensive nature of the rail system in terms of construction of rail lines and purchase of locomotives may have discouraged government to invest aggressively in the sector.
“For us in transport, the system generally includes Rail, Air, Maritime, Pipeline and Road, therefore, you don’t develop one mode of transport and leave others.
“The one you leave without being developed will not enable you derive the benefits of the one you have developed, and that is one of our problems today,’’ he said.
Adeleye noted that Nigeria is still using the old policy of administering railways, adding that the system will continue to be a conduit pipe for scarce resources, unless government limits itself to regulation of safety and standards.
Also, Alhaji Musa Hassan, a retired Locomotive Inspector, described the railway Act as archaic, and Nigeria needs a new law to modernise its railway operations.
He said that when he joined the services of the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) in 1966, the system was working fairly well, moving passengers and goods across Northern and Southern parts of the country.
Hassan who is the Financial Secretary of Nigerian Railway Pensioners Association in Zaria, however, said that neglect and poor funding made the rail services to nosedive.