Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, has explained that the Federal Government opted for single track for the Port Harcourt – Maiduguri rail line because of lack of funds for construction of a standard gauge.
He said the Eastern rail line was designed to have both narrow and standard gauge, “but as it stands now, due to the cost of the standard gauge and what is feasible to do within the limited time frame, it is cheaper to rehabilitate the narrow gauge which will cost about $3.2billion and can be delivered within the approved time frame.”
According to the minister, a standard gauge line is to cost between $11billion and $14billion to construct, and getting the funds within the limited time is not feasible because of other projects that are waiting to be funded.
Stakeholders had argued that due to the busy nature of the Eastern corridor, a standard gauge would have been more appropriate as rehabilitation of the old narrow gauge line would amount to waste of resources. They said government should have used the available resources to construct the kilometers that could be covered while the next administration completes the work.
Amaechi, while speaking on a television programme, stated that narrow gauge lines are inferior, sub-standard and outdated compared to the standard gauge rail lines.
“The only difference with the two lines is the speed. The standard gauge is 120km per hour. If you take off with the standard gauge, let’s say to Damaturu, you will arrive 20minute before me that uses the narrow gauge.
“The narrow gauge is cheaper at $3billion. Why we did not get the approval for the narrow gauge on time was because the President insisted on the standard gauge from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri. My argument is that if I can achieve the same length of rail with $3billion, why not take that first until when we get money, we can now go for the standard gauge.
“If we continue to wait until we get the $11billion to $14billion, we may not be able to construct the Eastern flag before we leave government.”
However, Managing Director of Nigeria Railways Corporation (NRC), Fidet Okhria, said the narrow gauge line was not outdated or less efficient.
Okhria, who said Nigeria was the first African country to introduce standard gauge line, stated that South Africa and other Africa countries still use the narrow gauge lines.
“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 getting the $13 billion now to construct the standard gauge line is not feasible.”
“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, but it doesn’t make it less effective than the standard gauge,” the managing director said.