Overflow of air travellers tests Abuja-Kaduna rail service
The Abuja-Kaduna rail service which runs two daily two-leg shuttles, conveying 320 passengers per trip, will come under a litmus test as the closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport Abuja for six weeks, starting March 8 leaves hoardes of commuters in Kaduna seeking passage to Abuja and back.
Hadi Sirika, minister of state for aviation, says during the six-week course of repairs to the Abuja Airport runway, Abuja-bound air passengers will be dropped at the Kaduna Airport , from where they will have to find alternative means (rail and road) to Abuja.
The National Association of Nigeria Travel Agents (NANTA) estimates that 6,000 passengers currently fly into and out of the Nation’s capital, Abuja, daily.
Aviation experts project that as much as 40 pecent of air passengers might suspend their non-essential trips during this period, to avoid the tedium of road travel and other perceived security risks.
They add however, that this will still leave a sizeable number of commuters seeking passage to and fro Abuja and Kaduna daily, and that this situation will test the road and rail transport systems and reward them by patronage, according to their efficiency and safety performance.
Experts say that because of some perceived security concerns in the north of the country, many commuters would likely prefer to make the Abuja-Kaduna trip by rial.
The rail shuttle service departs Abuja at 7.00 am and arrives Kaduna 9.40 am. On the return leg, the train departs Kaduna at 10.40am and arrives Abuja at 1.20pm.
The second service then departs Abuja at 2.20pm and arrives Kaduna at 5.00pm and the return leg of this service departs Kaduna at 6.00pm and arrives Abuja at 8.00pm.
Market watchers say that to service some of the overflow of air passengers arriving Kaduna for transit into Abuja and back, the rail service will have to step up its frequencies or add more coaches, or both.
A trip by road from Abuja to Kaduna takes about two hours and cost between N1,500 and N2,500 fom bus stations in the city centre, while airport taxis could charge as much as N7,000.
Going by estimates of 6,000 passengers typically flying into and out of Abuja daily,from various airports across the country, the number comes to 42,000 passengers weekly and 252,000 passengers for the six-week duration of repairs to the Abuja Airport runway.
Haroun Malami, Head Of Corporate Communications, PAN Nigeria Limited, assemblers of Peugeot vehicles in Nigeria, said in a telephone interview with BusinessDay, that it is ideal for government to link the Kaduna rail station which terminates at Rigafa local settlement by road to the city. This, he says, will ensure seamless movement from Abuja to Kaduna.
It would be recalled that the $1.46 billion Abuja-Kaduna passenger train service was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2016. The train service has the capacity for 320 passengers per trip, with a combined total of 1,380 passengers per day.
Fidet Ikhiria, Managing Director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) says that with 20 rail wagons and open wagons, the parastatal is operating two round trips from 7am to 8pm. There are plans to commence eight rounds with the addition of more coaches, even as the track section can take six trains at a time.
An anonymous source at the NRC told BusinessDay yesterday, that more trains are expected to be injected into the Abuja-Kaduna corridor within the first quarter of this year, as provided for in the 2017 budget.
Nigerians on business trips and civil servants on the Abuja-Kaduna corridor are availed of the train service at the cost of N900 for the executive coach and N500 for economy coach, respectively.
In terms of revenue, BusinessDay checks reveal that within the first and second weeks of operations, the NRC raked in N2.2million and N2.9million respectively, with an estimated 5,000 passengers recorded within six days on the third week.
In terms of speed, the service was designed according to specification to move at 90 kilometres per hour from the initial 70 kilometres per hour and to eventually scale up to 150 kilometres per hour .
Meals are served for a fee aboard the trains.
One crucial missing service , users say is internat service.
Some aviation watchers had suggested that an alternate runway be built to service the Abuja airport while the existing one is being repaired.
“It is only ideal that the FAAN, knowing the traffic emanating from Abuja Airport, will not consider closing it down as an option. The best thing is for them to rather build a parallel runway and then come back to repair the old one,” John Osadolor, a veteran aviation journalist.
Osadolor says that airports with such traffic cannot be shut down simply because the runway needs to be repaired. He adds that work would still go down well if a parallel runway were constructed for airlines at the same airport before going on to repair the old one.
Meanwhile, Hadi Sirika, minister of State for Aviation, yesterday disclosed that the Federal Executive Council has approved N1.1 billion for the completion of the Kaduna International Airport Terminal building.
Sirika said the contract for the rehabilitation of the building was initially awarded in 2011 at the cost of about N500 million, adding that the contractor noticed some structural damages to the building which necessitated the variation of the contract sum to the N1.1 billion.
MIKE OCHONMA, IFEOMA OKEKE & KENNETH AZAHAN
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