By Adeyinka Aderibigbe

For reasons bordering on fear, over congestion of coaches, and sheer intimidation by its rickety exterior, I had never boarded the intercity MTTS Train service of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, despite my long years in the Transportation space.

That fear came to an end yesterday.

Bolstered by the fact that Lagos State would soon begin Red line service on the same corridor with the narrow gauge service of the behemoth corporation, with the arrival, Tuesday, of the red line rolling stock for the Lagos Mass Transit Train Service (LMTTS), I decided an end must come to that fear. 

Two things made up my mind rather quickly. I love adventure, and I was around the precinct of Ebute Meta, in the heart of Yaba, and the train station was just a shouting distance. Then I saw a friend who offhandedly told me he was heading for the station to board the 5.30 pm train.

I joined him. Bought the ticket, a flat rate of N460 from EBJ (as the station is known) to Ijoko, in Ogun State. And the waiting game started as there was a slight delay, occasioned by the repair of the track following a minor derailment earlier in the day. We didn’t have to wait for too long. Soon we heard the blare of the train’s horn from a distance. My journey into new discovery is about to start.

Of course, my friend had told me, earlier, that I may not have any seats as all coaches may have been filled from Iddo (each coach carries 90 passengers sitting). He offered to take me to Iddo if I preferred sitting. I opted out, because of time, and just to see what fun, standing would offer on the train ride. Can it be compared to standing inside the Molue? Would we be packed like sardines, like the immortal Fela’s song? But there was no fun of those rough necks, shouting in guttural voices, which had been destroyed by years of gulping of all manners of hard drugs and alcohol.

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Soon the train came up to the platform and stopped for more passengers to board and me and my friend entered. You paid at the counter, you have your tickets issued and you enter the train. Our lot was to stand. I zeroed my mind. I’ve had the misfortune of standing inside Molue for hours on end in my early days in this stage, I’ve had the misfortune of standing inside the Blue buses when we were held in blistering traffic. What would standing on I side train do to me?

The time was 6.05 pm. shortly thereafter by 6.15 pm the train hooted its horns and snaked its way out of the station. We were about 10 in the coach I boarded and I counted about 12 coaches on the train. Even if other coaches had an equal number, each coach still carried 100 passengers comfortably. And with 12 coaches on the trip, it. means minus the staff and train officials, no fewer than 1200 passengers headed for Ijoko on that trip alone. Imagine the sheer number, how many vehicles will you put on the road to carry such figures?

I expected to see ruffians, beggars and all. I saw none. Men were traders and artisans, but all looked respectable even in their relatively poor state. There are several youths too, and job seekers. But none looked tattered. 

Of course, I struck off the conversation with some passengers and it didn’t take long before they knew it was my first experience on the train. The seats were much more comfortable than the contraptions called Vanagon or the Korope. Far more comfortable than you ever could find in the fastly ebbing Molue, most of which are in the fantasies of older generations of Lagosians. Comparable to what obtains in the new Blue BRT buses. 

Unlike the exterior, the inside of the coaches showed it’s recently been painted and the shutters on the windows I learned are not rutted but could still be moved, a man bought a bottle of Coke, drank it, and absent-mindedly put it on the window sill. The empty bottle, was still there till I disembarked. It may surely be there when the train reached its last stop. That is how stable the train was.

Gone were all my fears of muggings and all those afters you may imagine on a train with louts and rough necks. 

Because the train didn’t stop in-between stations like before again, we made it to Agege Station, (Babatunde Fashola Station) by 6.30 pm. just 20 minutes travel time between Ebute Meta and Agege, and I was told it will touch down at Ijoko at 7.30 pm.

As the train approached the station, my newfound friends teased me and asked how I found the trip. I simply said the corporation has just won a new convert. I can never imagine a road ride in mainland Lagos at that rush hour that would be executed in just 20 minutes.

I sauntered into the Fashola Station and even had time to enter and had a new feel of the place, since my last visit, during its construction, following the Minister and other NRC officials.

All those dreams of and the change I wanted for the country came powerfully back. I imagine all that was possible if we recover all those manhours lost to traffic by mindless planning, overstressed road networks, and crass indisciplined drivers, who populated the roads I also imagined all that is possible when the Tulga-Milwaukee red trains begins their commercial service.

I have my friend to thank for encouraging my ride on the train as I joined the tricycle to complete the last leg of my journey home. But not until I made a mental note of the need to include train rides on my must-dos, as long as circumstances permits. It is sure a new experience, a toast to the new possibilities as the Lagos government gears to change the conversations on transportation in the state.

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