Across board, the Railways have been mentioned as the ultimate solution to the traffic crises in the ports in Lagos. How prepare is the Nigerian Railways corporation (NRC) to face this challenges and what are the encumbrances? Mr. Niyi Ali, the Director of operations of the NRC gives us insight.
We have observed that there are too many trucks in Apapa constituting gridlock and some people have suggested that the only option is the use of the railways. How ready is NRC as regards this trend as we observed that there are 58 tank farms in Apapa and 300 trucks waiting to load at the time?
The railway is now actually involved in the evacuations of containers and cargos from the Apapa Bonded Terminal Limited (ABTL) to the northern part of the country. The best way to look at it now is where we evacuate from; we have lines that go into ABTL, Greenview terminals, ENL terminals, APM Terminals.
We commenced the movement of containers, out of Apapa port about a year or two ago now and it is going on for a while. We are commencing the movement of containers from the Lagos ports (APMT) to Kano and Kaduna.
At the ABTL for example, we have been moving wheat from Flour Mills Nigeria Limited for the past 2 years and this has contributed immensely to the reduction of the gridlock in Apapa. What happened recently is the issue of influx of petroleum marketers into Apapa. We at NRC have the capacity to carry about 1.8 m tons of petroleum products.
We recently acquired 40 brand new pressurized tank wagons each to carry 45,000, that is, 1.8 million liters, what is causing a bit of delay now as you might well imagine is safety standards. The movement of petroleum is not about just loading but offloading as well in terms of volatility. We have started talking to marketers associations and Petroleum Equalization Fund (PEF) to agree on a rate for movement.
The main bottle neck is the needs to have the right apparatus for the loading, the tank farms in Apapa which are connected through the NRC have gotten in touch with the likes of OANDO for the rehabilitation of the lines in apapa. We had meeting with them recently and had come up with the best way of moving petroleum products, we believe it would have an impact on Apapa as well as offloading up country.
Once this is done payment is an issue as well. We are discussing on the payment modalities between the petroleum marketers and PEF for the movement. Part of what we do is also run a mass transit movement to Apapa with our newly acquired train coaches. People these days have to leave their cars at home to join the train which also reduces the gridlock.
In view of the numerous steps to check the gridlock, have you been getting support from sister companies on this issue?
Yes of course, like Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), stakeholders are supporting us to decongest the roads, even the Lagos State Government. The major problem with decongesting the roads was, when the ports was concessioned, a lot of the lines were removed. But we have come to a point where a lot have been replaced in some terminals. I think we are almost there as regards the movement of petroleum products which is a major product.
If this noble idea comes to play, how wide is NRC ready to deliver to the man in Sokoto, or Warri for instance. Does the rail system go to all places?
We have 2 main lines in Nigeria. From Lagos to Kano and the Eastern lines which runs from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri. At the moment we stop at Gombe due to security challenges. We service anywhere along these lines. The issue with petroleum product is that we can only service places with tank farms, which is crucial.
We have been talking to tank farm owners to establish along these routes where containers and cargos can be off loaded at stations along these routes for people to pick. Factories should be established along railway lines, planned into factories like the ones we have presently at Ewekoro, Flour Mills, Lafarge Cement. Even APMT is doing one. These are the kinds of things we need to include in our long term developmental goals.
The beauty of this is long distance haulage by the rail, with individuals to pick at points at hinterlands. Sokoto and Warri are not connected to rail lines at the moment but there are plan to extend rail network in Nigeria by NRC with models being put in place to ensure we service the country.
What have been your most challenging tasks since the present management came on board in spite of the successes you recorded?
The most challenging is sustaining the successes recorded. Every day is a challenge but the management would ensure that expectations of the commuters are met.
Most people said there was nothing like gridlock in Apapa before now and that the present state is caused by abuse of issuance of licenses to tank farms by Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) who are still issuing more. What is your take on this, from a professional point?
There should be proper monitoring from would be tank farm owners on their modus operandi. There must be a form of rail connection to tank farms and as long as the tank farms have rail links the gridlock would be a thing of the past.
Has the railway come to stay?
Any country that does not have an efficient railway system would face a traffic gridlock. An efficient railway system would make people to leave their cars and trucks at home and get on the train. That is the most efficient way of moving people and goods round the country.