Against the backdrop of reactions over the recent flag-off of the Eastern railway narrow gauge stretching from Port-Harcourt to Maiduguri, Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, has said the narrow gauge is not in anyway inferior to the standard gauge as being speculated in some quarters.
The Minister said the difference was only in the area of speed.
According to him, the Eastern Rail corridor would be made up of both the narrow and standard gauge, adding that government was only starting off the rehabilitation of the narrow gauge owing to paucity of funds.
A statement signed by Taiye Elebiyo-Edeni, Media Assistant to the Minister, quoted Amaechi as saying that standard gauge lines cost about $11-14billion to construct compared to narrow gauge which cost about $3.2 billion, adding that getting the funds within the limited time was not feasible because of other projects awaiting funding.
The statement read: “The standard gauge line is between $11-14billion to construct on the Eastern flag. The standard gauge as designed in Nigeria is 150km design speed, operational speed is 120km. What is the difference between 120km and 100km? The narrow gauge is about $3.2billion dollars at 100km per hour.
“The standard gauge which is at $11 to $14billion is 120km per hour, so if you take off with the standard gauge, say to Damaturu, you will arrive 20minute before me that used the narrow gauge.
“The narrow gauge is cheaper at $3.2billion against the $11 to 14billion to construct the standard gauge. Why we did not get the approval for the narrow gauge on time was because the President insisted on the standard gauge from Port Harcourt-Maiduguri. My argument was if I can achieve the same length of rail with $3.2 billion dollars, why not take that first until we get money for the standard gauge?
“This made him approve the standard gauge as designed but until we get the money because if we continue to wait until we get the $11bn to 14billion dollars, we may not be able to construct the Eastern flag before we leave government.”
However, Engr.Fidet Okhria, Managing Director, Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), said the narrow gauge line was not outdated or less efficient.
The NRC boss added that Nigeria was the first African country to introduce standard gauge line, even as he added that South Africa and other African countries still make use of narrow gauge lines today.
“In the whole of Africa, Nigeria is the only country that has introduced a standard gauge line. South Africa, India and other countries are still using the narrow guage line introduced by their colonial masters. Other African countries are still using what the colonial master constructed.
“The narrow gauge is not inferior in anyway, the difference is in the speed and it cannot carry more load like the standard gauge because the standard gauge is wider while the narrow guage is narrower which doesn’t make it less effective than the standard gauge.
“About the cost, there should be no comparison with the cost because one is $13billion while the other is about $3.2billion. The difference is about $10billion,” he said.
On his part, Engr. Muhammad Baba-kobi, Director Rail and Transport Services, Federal Ministry of Transportation said the difference between the narrow and the standard gauge rail lines is the width within the inner edge of the track which is called the gauge.
He noted that the narrow gauge in Nigeria is about 1067mm which is 3ft. Ib some countries, it is 600mm, which is 2ft while the standard gauge is 1437mm which is a little bit more than 4ft.
Baba-Kobi, however said that the use of any of the gauge is by choice not necessarily the cost, noting that in places with hilly and curve terrain like Port Harcourt-Maiduguri corridor, the narrow gauge would be best because its easy to negotiate curves because of its light weight.
“The choice of one or the other relies on certain factors. Whether you put the standard or narrow gauge, you will still have an efficient and functional trains. It just depends on your operational planning, it depends on where you want to take your train to.
“But technically, in most places where you have hilly roads that you have to negotiate into valleys, hills and places with curves, the best in terms of engineering for that terrain is the narrow gauge because it’s lighter, easy to navigate curves that are smaller and the engine can easily thrives,” he said.