Echoes Of The Locomotive Engine

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If the old ways of living our lives can be brought back, the much pressure on rural-urban shift will reduce. Besides, the euphoria and excitement associated with such glorious past will reduce the frustrations and hazards that go with our modern existence. Today, however, greed and lack of vision on the part of our political leaders has killed these euphoria and excitements.

 

The above frustration was expressed by a 63 year old Bonny-born fisherman, Mr Samuel Aderson who narrated his experience of seeing a locomotive engine coming in the past.

  “As a young school child, I and my siblings always rushed out on hearing the blaring sound blaize of trains. In those days, train usually arrived Port Harcourt terminal in the evening and took off as early as 4:30a.m, with passengers waving at us,” she said.

  Indeed, the longing for modern technology has made Nigerians forget the beauties of the past. For example, the modern transportation system has swept Nigerians off their feet and make them forget the beauty and excitement associated with other transportation systems like rail and marine transportation.

  In particular, road transportation has become so popular that the rail system seems to have been neglect of rail system in Nigeria.

  In Rivers State, for example, people only remember with nostalgia the excitement that usually accompanied traveling on train in the past. Unlike in the early 70s when journeying by train from Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital to Umuahia in the old Imo State (now Abia State) was a pleasurable ride for passengers, especially the rich merchant men and women, rail system, today, is no longer an attractive picturesque exercise. Most of the railway lines and terminals have become dumpsites. No thanks to the poor, and self-righteous vision of Nigerian leaders and the greed of the country’s political and economic cabal who feed fat by putting more lorries and trailers on the roads.

  The negligible profile of railway transportation system has made many Nigerians, especially the new generation, oblivious of the existence of the good old, safe days when passengers relished the comfort and excitement of travelling by train with huge luggages and without the harrowing experience and concomitant effects that are associated with road transportation.

  “I remember the good old days when we rushed from the railway market in Port Harcourt to railway terminals on hearing the blaring horn of train awaiting the arrival of train to transport our huge food stuffs and local merchandise to the North, and Eastern region like Umuahia, Owerri and Onitsha,” Mrs Owiyeba Amadi, a Port Harcourt based trader said.

  She noted that besides the beautiful experience of travelling in locomotive train and the attraction of rail blazed horn that used to awake and alert passengers, the mass transit system then provided cheap, reliable, and safe means of transportation to traders and local merchants, and provided jobs for hundreds of Nigerians. Today, all that seems to be part of a distant past.

  Given the sordid and horrible status of the Nigerian highways which has exposed travellers to untold and harrowing experiences, and the attendant effect of making them vulnerable to road accidents, and armed robbery attacks, people now find it difficult to move raw materials to industries within the country and to move finished products from industries to the market. Today, the journey that used to take about two days now take between five and seven days, thus leading to serious waste of man hours and heightened risk. This, without mincing words, is one of the major problems that have been bedeviling the Nigerian economy for more than two decades.

  Investigations revealed that given the enormous pressure on Nigerian roads, the bus rapid transit and the huge number of vehicles on the roads have not quelled the growing appetite of individuals and corporate organisations to use train for business transactions.

  Many people also argued that going to work has become a nightmare as a result of bad roads, heavy traffics and the menace of long vehicles on the roads. They believed that with the investment on mass transit system, rail haulage and freight would take the weight off the load.

  “If our railways system is quickly fixed, these trucks and long vehicles especially on Port Harcourt-Aba road, particularly along Elelenwo, Oil Mills, Oyigbo axis that use to constitute menace on our roads and give passengers and travelers a nightmare will have no business on our roads,” another Port Harcourt based trader, Mr. Emeka Elechi told The Tide.

  This perharps explains why the trend around the world is tailored towards mass transit system. Rail system is used in most developed countries to reduce congestions in the cities following urbanization. Canadian government, for example has invested nearly $1 billion in rail system over the past two years.

  Nigeria, however, has not developed the rails in line with its population growth. For more than one decade now, the rail based system is a conundrum the country has been seeking ways to unravel. Sometimes in 2008, the federal government promised to resuscitate the moribund Nigeria Railways Corporation (NRC) before the end of last year to reduce pressure on roads. This vision is yet to manifest.

  Mr. George Fubara, a  retired federal civil servant, said railway infrastructure is supposed to be a priority in Nigerian economy, especially now that the country’s poor road network cannot sufficiently handle the huge logistics need of the Nigerian economy. Besides delivering fast, comfortable, safe and cost effective rural and urban mobility, he stated that collective investments on rail system would create hundreds of jobs for Nigerians, as well as staving off pressures on the roads.

  “I remember the good old times when we used to go to railway terminals at Lulu Briggs Station in Port Harcourt town where we used to off-load goods and get paid. The Railway market that is now being occupied by school children was a place traders bought cheap goods and local wares to transport to the North via train. We expect the good old times to return to mass transit life not only to reduce pressures on our roads, but also to provide employment for many Nigerians and cater for the huge logistic needs of our economy. Besides, rail system is not commonly known for accidents and therefore will provide cheap and save transportation for people, especially local merchants,” Mr. Fubara said.

  A Kalabari-born old man who grew up in Port Harcourt, however, noted that Nigeria’s rail system is being circumvented by the country’s political cum economic cabal who feed fat on road transportation.

  “Our political leaders, especially our big businessmen who have many buses, trailers and huge lorries on the road are responsible for the collapse of  the Nigeria’s railway system. And this collapse has led to about 90 per cent escalation of food prices in the country,” he stated.

  The consensus is that the huge investment made in rail system by past Nigerian governments enabled citizens in those days to enjoy less, stressful transportation and cheaper and more comfortable way of transacting business. But with the collapse of the rail system today and the challenges posed by Nigeria’s huge population growth and the country’s poor road network, human lives and Nigeria’s socio-economic life have been at a risk. This, therefore, suggests that the moribund railway system begs for urgent revival.

  But whether or not the euphoria and excitement of pleasurable travelling on train with huge goods and merchandise in the past will be brought back to the people is a question that requires urgent answer from Nigerian government. How soon do people await answer?