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Africa

Lagos-Kano rail link keeps death off the roads

media Main railway terminus in Lagos Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye

Travelling by train was millions of Nigerians preferred means of transport at the time of the country’s independence in 1960. But mismanagement by the Nigerian Railway Corporation meant that all of the country’s colonial-era trains ground to a halt within 30 years. A project to restore Nigeria's rail system was launched a decade ago and the Lagos-Kano line recently reopened.

The Lagos train terminus is crowded with passengers as the orange train prepares to make the 1,126-kilometre journey to Kano.

With a combined population of over 30 million people, these two metropoles need to be connected today even more than they did in colonial times.

"That has been the premier flagship train line operations in Nigeria, from Lagos to Kano. It predates others, says Ndanusa Ndakotsu, assistant director public relations of the Nigerian Railway Corporation. "The colonial administration used it to bring produce from the hinterland, Kano. You remember the groundnuts, hides and skin, they were transported down to the Apapa port using the rail track, that was why it has still been the priority route up till today."

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The Lagos-Kano train service is also gradually regaining its former reputation as the best way to get from south-western Nigeria to the north of the country.

Tayo Babatunde is one of those happy to travel by train.

"The reason why I prefer train is because of the roads," he says. "We have bad roads for vehicles except if somebody does not feel concern about his car. I cherish my car more than any other thing that is why I board the train."

A combination of pot-holed roads, poorly maintained vehicles and questionable driving habits have transformed Nigerian roads into death traps.

Although official statistics put the number of people killed annually on Nigerian roads at 4,500, it is believed that the actual figure is much higher. All this makes train travel a much safer option for the majority of Nigerians, who can’t afford to take intercity flights.

From one station to another there is a struggle to board the train even before it comes to a halt. With demand far outstripping supply, the coaches filled to the brim. Many passengers have to stand because there are not enough seats. this is a negative side of train travel in Nigeria:

"The disadvantage is about the rowdiness of the passengers," says Joseph Olalekan. "There is no limitation in accommodating the passengers into the coaches. According to these seaters now, it has a number, but there is no limitation to it."

The Nigerian Railway Corporation, however, is optimistic that all shortcomings will be addressed by the ongoing rehabilitation programme.

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