By Ignatius Ushie
President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday officially inaugurated the groundbreaking for the Eastern Narrow-gauge railway project in Port Harcourt Rivers State.
The President noted that the groundbreaking ceremony marks the commencement of the implementation of another important national infrastructure which consists of three projects, consisting the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri narrow gauge railway reconstruction project with new branch lines to Owerri, Imo State and Damaturu, Yobe State, adding that the second and the third projects are the Bonny deep seaport and a Railway Industrial Park, Port Harcourt that are to be constructed through direct investments by Chinese partners and international financing agencies.
Buhari said the project is also designed to link other standard gauge rail lines under construction through the provision of transhipment centres.
According to him, the funding of the railway is through loan of 85% project cost and the Federal Government contribution of 15% as counterpart funding.
“These projects will serve transportation and supply chain network for domestic needs and export as well as support imports into the hinterland of the country through the new deep seaport in Bonny Island, Rivers State.
“This improved port is designed to be a regional and international transport hub. In line with the global trends, the Railway Industrial Park will have the capability for processing exports of raw materials with value addition and also export of locally made goods” he said.
Earlier, Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation disclosed that while the railway project is to be co-financed by loan from a syndicate of Chinese financiers with Federal Government contribution of 15% project cost, the Bonny Deep seaport and Railway Industrial park, Port Harcourt are being developed through direct investment by the conglomerate led by Messrs CCECC Nigeria Limited with a total investment portfolio of US$700m.
He reiterated that the Eastern Narrow Gauge Railway project is coming with new extensions and facilities, the construction of Bonny Deep sea Port and Railway Industrial park in Port Harcourt.
According to Amaechi, the railway project is a part of the comprehensive plan for the revitalization, rehabilitation and expansion of the Nigerian Railway network to meet up with the transport infrastructure needs of the country.
The Minister stated that upon completion, trains on the Port Harcourt – Maiduguri Eastern Narrow Gauge Railway will run at 60 – 80 kilometres per hour Kph and 80 – 100 kilometres per hour Kph for freight and passenger respectively.
He stated that the Bonny Deep seaport has a container terminal of 500,000 TEU (20 foot equivalent unit) per annum capacity and 100,000 DWT (Deadweight tonnage) Berth. The Railway Industrial park, Port Harcourt would be supported by necessary infrastructure (Power, Water, Waste Disposal, ICT, Gas distribution) as well as transportation, logistics centres and ancillaries.
“The Federal Ministry of Transportation is working in line with Mr. President’s directives, to implement the Nigeria Railway Modernization project and progressively expand the railway network. In this regard, the rail line connection from Enugu to Awka – Onitsha and Abakaliki is undergoing necessary Feasibility Studies and preparation of conceptual design” Amaechi said.
Buhari Abdulfatai, Chairman of Senate Committee of Land Transport, who represented Ahmed Lawan, President of the Senate, described the project as another milestone that will connect the East and the rest of the country. “It will increase industrial and economic activities in the region,” he said.
Also, Simon Lalong, Chairman Northern Governors’ Forum, who spoke on behalf of northern Governors, said the Northerners are the most beneficiaries of the Eastern rail project. According to Lalong, the project will ease transportation and boost the economy of the country.
Present at the event were Ministers of Information and National Orientation, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu; Labour, Sen. Chris Ngige; and Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio among others.