President Muhammadu Buhari said on Tuesday that the $3billion Port-Harcourt-Maiduguri Eastern narrow gauge rail line $3 billion rail project that will connect about 14 Southern, Northern states boost transshipment of goods in the West African sub-region and Continental Free Trade Area, CFTA.
The rail line is The rail line is expected to move from Bonny Ports to Port Harcourt in Rivers State and when completed would connect Rivers, Abia, Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra, Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, Kaduna, Bauchi, Gombe, Yobe and Borno States by rail.
The President disclosed this at the groundbreaking ceremony of the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the 2,044km narrow gauge in Port-Harcourt, the Rivers state capital.
President Buhari who Presided over the event virtually from the Presidential Villa, Abuja said the corridor comes with new branch lines to Owerri and Damaturu, capitals of Imo and Yobe states respectively.
He said: “The connection of the railway to a new deep seaport in Bonny Island and Railway Industrial Park, Port Harcourt is designed to increase the viability and boost transshipment of cargo and freight locally, across the West African sub-region and in the Continental Free Trade Area.
“The second and the third projects are the Bonny deep sea port and a Railway Industrial Park, Port Harcourt that are to be constructed through direct investments by our Chinese partners and international financing agencies.
“The project is with the objective of resuscitating the once vibrant railway transportation in the Eastern railway corridor of the country.
“We are further expanding it to achieve contemporary demand for transport in the North East and Southern geopolitical zones of the country. It is also designed to link other standard gauge rail lines under construction through the provision of transshipment centers. The funding of the railway is through loan to fund 85% project cost and the Federal Government contribution of 15% as counterpart funding.
“These projects will serve transportation and supply chain network for domestic needs and export as well as support imports into the hinterland of the country through the new deep sea port in Bonny Island, Rivers state.”
According to the President, the port is designed to be “a regional and international transport hub. In line with the global trends, the Railway Industrial Park will have the capability for processing exports of raw materials with value addition and also export of locally made goods.”
He continued: “In planning this project, prudent use of resources has been given priority, as by this endeavor, Nigeria will retrieve the old narrow gauge that has been lying in neglect for years and bring it to full functional state commensurate to a National railway service at a rational price.
“The country’s inspiration for nationwide transport infrastructure and railways is significantly enhanced by these three projects that were conceived to be integrated in their operations.
“The Port Harcourt-Maiduguri railway will translate to reactivation of economic activities along the Eastern corridor, which has been greatly affected by insurgent activities and serve as a stimulus for industry and trade.
“In addition, there will be further utilization of local contents and technology transfer, increase in internally generated revenue and would serve as a fulcrum for the achievement of the Federal Government planned Integrated Development Masterplan,” he added.
On his part, Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi described the project as part of the comprehensive plan for the revitalization, rehabilitation and expansion of the Nigerian railway network to meet up with the transport infrastructure needs of the country.
“The effort of government at rehabilitation of this rail line in year 2009 – 2012, did not achieve the desired outcome, partly due to inadequate funding and incompetence of some of the contractors employed. The rail line therefore, remaines unserviceable.
“The need for a functional rail line on this Eastern corridor persists and remain compelling as the supply chain for products and services on this corridor vanishes and articles and items such as petroleum products, iron and steel, minerals, livestock and poultry products availability were reduced giving rise to high cost and affecting the manufacturing and agro-allied industries,” stressing that as a result, the government of President Buhari elected to address the challenge.
He noted that the railway project is to be co-financed with loan from a syndicate of Chinese financiers totalling 85 per cent while the federal government will contribute 15 per cent of the project cost of $3.2bn.
This is as the seaport and railway industrial pack are expected to cost up to $700m.
The Minister added that on completion, trains on the Port Harcourt – Maiduguri rail corridor will run at 60 – 80 kilometres per hour and 80 – 100 kilometres per hour for freight and passenger respectively.
In his good will message, Plateau state governor and chairman, Northern Governors’ Forum, Simon Lalong, expressed appreciation to President Muhammadu Buhari, saying the rail line “will cover not only the North but major major parts of the country.”
Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige wondered why ‘narrow’ is being used to describe the project, saying, “Some people say it is narrow. It is not narrow because it will take me to my village.”
Managing Director, China Civil Engineering Construction Company, CCECC,Jason Zhang, pledged the readiness of the company to deliver the project on or before the completion timeline of 36 months.