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Opening railway to private sector participation

If all goes according to plan, the Nigerian railway system will soon be open to private sector participation. The first step towards this revolutionary development is being taken by the Federal Government, which has sent a bill to the National Assembly to this effect. The bill provides for private operators to own, construct and operate railway lines. When passed, the Act will help to give the railway the much-needed boost to reinvent and transform itself from the present stodgy state to a modern transportation system like what obtains in other advanced and developing countries of the world.

We know that the President Goodluck Jonathan administration has set for itself a target of developing an adequate, safe, environmentally sound, efficient and affordable, integrated transport system within the framework of a competitive national and international market economy. But over the years, the railway has suffered neglect, due to the lack of investment required to bring it up to date through the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment including modern coaches, locomotive engines, rail buses, motorised trolleys, among others.

Poor management of the rail system, which has led to deficient and erratic service delivery in the movement of goods and commuters, has exacerbated this. Part of this problem is traceable to the outmoded narrow gauge rail lines being operated in the country. Curiously, the narrow gauge system has since been abandoned in all major economies and replaced with the standard gauge.

Such lack of progress has left Nigeria at the mercy of Chinese and Indian rolling stock companies, given that they are now the last frontiers for the building of coaches and engines for narrow tracks. This is where private-sector investment comes in handy to engender competition for the building and operation of alternative rail systems.

Definitely, no government has all the resources to optimise capacity in the rail transportation sector. It should therefore allow for Public Private Partnership (PPP) to leverage on the synergy this will bring. It is a fact that a modern rail transportation system would bring the much-desired efficiency in the movement of goods and commuters from one part of the country to another. The time has come for Nigeria to emulate the examples in Europe and Asia where private investors run railways with ease and stress-free efficiency not matched by any other mode of transportation.

Government should emulate the success story of the previously privatised Public Enterprises, such as banking, power, telecommunications, marine, steel sectors and bring such foresight to bear on rail transportation. We expect that with the passage of the bill, competent private enterprises willing to invest in the rail system would be encouraged to do so. This way, people and organisations can make informed choices on the best ways to travel and transport their goods and services.

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