By Simon Shango
The last time I travelled by train in Nigeria was in January 1966. That was my final year at government college Kaduna.
It was customary for the Northern Nigeria government to arrange trains for the students travelling between the southern part of the north to all schools that were near rail stations in all parts of the north. Our school was appropriately situated near the Kaduna north railway station. All you were required to do was to open the gate and you are in the school.
By train in our days, it took two days to travel from Makurdi to Kaduna. As school children we tremendously enjoyed that adventure.
As I grew up and travelled to other parts of the world like Britain and United States, I became aware that rail transportation – because it is inexpensive and convenient – was the first choice of travelers.
Back home in Nigeria the railway transportation became very disorganized, hardly-existent and even where it existed, it was for the poorest in our society. But there appears to be a pleasant surprise.
Last week I had occasion to travel from Abuja to Kaduna and back. I had to take the train because I was afraid of the Abuja-Kaduna high way because criminals have taken over that road and it has become notorious for armed robbery and kidnapping. I have become very scared of kidnapping because I had an experience of been kidnapped and the experience was not funny.
My first experience on a Nigerian train after so many years was both trilling and unbelievable. I travelled in the business class and was surprised to find the interior of the train comparable to any business class in an airplane. The services which comprised serving of any kind of food and drinks ordered was efficient and the stewards were exceedingly polite.
The train departed on scheduled and got to Kaduna in about 1hour 30 minutes. According to information available to me, the Abuja – Kaduna rail lines is one of the first standard gauge railway – modernization projects (SGRMP) undertaken in Nigeria. The standard gauge line connects the Federal Capital city Abuja with the commercial city of Kaduna, enabling faster movement of goods and people between the two cities.
The construction of the Abuja-Kaduna rail line was started in February 2011 by the Goodluck Jonathan administration and was completed and commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2017.
Railway is one of the safest modes of transportation. The Abuja-Kaduna rail line is 186km long with standard gauge railway tracks from Idu, near Abuja, to Rigasa in Kaduna. It has nine stations and features both passenger and cargo trains travelling at 200km/h. passenger train can carry up to 5,000 commuters.
As I returned to Abuja I started agonizing about my return journey to Makurdi, I thought about the 4½ hour journey on a meandering, rough potholes filled road. By God’s grace however I arrived Makurdi safely.
In Makurdi my house is situated along the Enugu to Makurdi rail line and as I crossed the railway line, I shook my head and wondered when the people from this part of the country will be able to enjoy trips as fast and comfortable like the one I enjoyed from Abuja to Kaduna.
I am however informed that the project is at its early stages of design on the drawing board. May God help us.
Simon Shango, a veteran journalist and former publicity secretary of the NPN in the Second Republic contributed this piece from Makurdi.