Rail container haulage and hub port projections

The recent resumption of rail haulage of containers from the Lagos Ports Complex, Apapa to some states in the northern parts of the country raises a glimmer of hope towards reducing costs for shippers. FRANCIS EZEM, examines the sustainability of this scheme.

Globally, the seaport is basically a transshipment centre not a storage facility. That is probably why cargo dwell time in most of the efficient seaports in the world such as Singapore, Malaysia and Port of Antwerp, Belgium is measured in minutes. Unfortunately, More than seven years after the reform of the nation’s seaports, cargo dwell time, which is the number of days a consignment stays at the ports before they are released, is still above 21 days.

This high cargo dwell time, which is also one of the indices to measure the level of efficiency of the ports, is indicative of the fact that Nigerian seaports are mere storage facilities rather than transshipment centres. This is probably why many port stakeholders could not hide their excitement when the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) recently re-lunched its container haulage scheme to the northern parts of the country precisely Kano and Kaduna.

The container haulage from Apapa Port in Lagos to the northern parts of the country was suspended about 10 years ago owing to several problems ranging from the dilapidated nature of the rail track, dearth of locomotives to rising insecurity in the country occasioned by rising wave of crimes.

Managing Director of NRC, Mr. Adeseye Sijuade, had while speaking at the official flag-off recently, said that the re-instatement of the container haulage services was in line with the corporation’s promise to assist in decongesting the ports through massive movement of containers through the rails.

He also disclosed that the corporation has a projection of stocking 23 locomotives on its fleet for the movement of cargo out of the nation’s seaports to mitigate the impact of increased cargo throughput into the country. It was also gathered that NRC will soon commence the haulage of bulk cargo such as sugar and cement to the northern parts of the country, while plans are also underway for the haulage of refined petroleum products to some parts of the country.

The resuscitation of the container haulage was sequel to an investment of N3billion in the acquisition of four brand new locomotives and two state-of-the –art telescopic cranes with 1800 caterpillar engine capacity. The Minister of Transport, Mallam Idris Umar, who conducted the official flag off of the haulage services had noted that it was in line with the transformation agenda of the current administration.

The Minister had also recalled that the government recently re-introduced rail services along the Lagos-Kano corridor, adding that the re-introduction of container haulage to reassure Nigerians that rail services in the country will not be limited to passenger services alone.

It was probably in realisation of the critical importance of the role of the rail transport system that the Federal Government had recently developed a comprehensive master plan for high speed rail across the federation as part of its strategic plans for the development of rail infrastructure in Nigeria, Sadly, even with the recent efforts at revamping the rail industry, statistics still show that the movement of goods and passengers by rail in Nigeria still constitutes less than two percent.

This is unlike India, which is densely populated, where, rail transport accounts for over 80 percent of the means of movement of goods and people. Experts believe that this portends a great danger to the economy, especially given that transport is critical to the development of any economy.

It constitutes even more danger to Nigeria’s attainment of a hub transshipment hub destination for the West and Central African sub-region.

Chief Executive Officer, Africa-Middle East Region of APM Terminals, Mr. Peder Sondergaard, while speaking on a topic entitled: ‘Fixing Transport and Logistics for a Globalised Nigeria’ at the 2013 edition of the Nigeria summit organised in Lagos by The Economist, expressed worries over the near absence of rail connectivity with the seaports in Nigeria.

He had disclosed that the company was developing a new mega deep seaport at Badagry, which will be a full build-out deep-water, full-service port that will be one of the largest in Africa with seven kilometer of quay and 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) of dedicated yard’ The new facility, it was gathered, will include the most modern facilities for container, bulk, liquid bulk, Roll-On-Roll-Off (RORO), general cargo, oil and gas operations support and a barge terminal. He, however, expressed fears that the inadequacies in Nigeria’s infrastructure might constitute a major challenge.

“Competition is intensifying regionally and within Nigeria while hinterland connectivity faces certain infrastructure constraints”, he said. Sondergaard also said: “30 years from now, Nigeria will have close to 250 million inhabitants putting even more pressure on city centres, roads, and rail”.

He also said: ‘‘During the last 50 years, volume of cargo transported by rail has dropped from 88 percent to nearly nothing. This is an enormous opportunity, but significant investment must be made in advance. A modernised rail network connecting Badagry to metro-Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja and other city centre in the north and neighboring countries is the way forward.”

It has also been projected that Nigeria’s cargo throughput will record between 8-10 percent growth per annum over the next decade, which means that existing port infrastructure will be capacity constrained by around 2017. But there seems to be light at the tunnel, especially given assurances by the government that serious efforts are being made to rehabilitate the existing rail facilities and also build new ones.

Minister of Transport, during the recent ministerial briefing on the scorecard of the mid -term achievement of President Goodluck Jonathan reeled out figures indicating that over 90 percent of the rehabilitation of the entire existing narrow gauge lines throughout the country, some of which have been completed while so many others are ongoing. Even more re-assuring is the recent development of rail infrastructure master plan for high speed rail system.

Under the new master plan, which is part of 25-year development project for the rail system in the country covering the rehabilitation of the existing narrow gauge and construction of modern standard gauge, the government intends to run a six-structure plan for the high speed rail lines covering the length and breadth of the nation.

It is therefore expected that government should match these projections with real action. Efforts should also be made to include the seaports in these rail infrastructure development programmes, since only Apapa Port has rail tracks for now.

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