Photo credit: The Discoverer Nigeria
The first container freight service on the new Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge railway, built by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), recently commenced with the transportation of 30 containers from Apapa port in Lagos to the inland dry port in Ibadan, Nigeria’s third largest city and a major commercial centre. This service aims to alleviate the burden of container traffic on the roads and ease congestion at Nigeria’s busiest port and its access routes.
Spanning 157km, the Lagos-Ibadan railway was built at a cost of US$1.5bn and began passenger services just over two years ago. However, cargo transport was not initially available due to the incomplete installation of the final track segment leading to Apapa port's quayside. This track is critical for directly transferring imported containers from ships to rail wagons.
The newly launched container freight service is anticipated to reduce congestion at Apapa port, a major hub handling 64% of Nigeria's total imports and 94% of its exports. Prior to this development, over 90% of these imports and exports relied on truck transport, resulting in considerable congestion at the port. Furthermore, the railway is also projected to offer financial relief to importers by reducing congestion-related demurrage charges – the fees incurred for keeping containers in the terminal longer than the agreed time – which have historically contributed to higher prices of consumer products.
The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) intends to run one pair of container trains daily between Lagos and Ibadan, with each journey taking approximately two and a half hours. The NRC aims to incrementally boost the number of trains in response to growing demand. Government officials have previously expressed their ambition to eventually reach a frequency of 270 trips per month on this route.
“This is great, great news! My products will hopefully move straight from my factory in Abeokuta to Apapa. This could save me like N3M+ (US$3,541) in road logistics,” remarked Affiong Williams, CEO of snack food producer ReelFruit, in response to the launch of the container service. However, not all feedback has been positive. Some cargo owners are reportedly avoiding the rail service due to issues such as double handling charges applied to their cargoes at both Apapa's loading point and upon arrival in Ibadan. Additionally, there have been complaints about subpar handling services, which have led to delays.
The Lagos-Ibadan line is part of the larger 1,343 km standard gauge railway project aimed at connecting Lagos to the northern city of Kano, passing through the capital Abuja. This new railway supersedes the colonial-era Western Line, which is in a deteriorated condition. In addition to the Lagos-Ibadan stretch, the segment between Abuja and Kaduna, also constructed by CCECC, was officially inaugurated in 2016. Former minister of transportation Rotimi Amaechi declared in 2020 that upon the completion of key rail projects, certain types of cargo would be restricted from road transportation.
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