Nigeria has unveiled a major railway expansion project to ease congestion on roads and to boost the economy, writes Ijeoma Ndukwe from the commercial capital, Lagos.
A train pulls into Ebute Meta station on mainland Lagos. The station is housed within an old railway compound built during British rule in Africa’s most populous state with a population of more than 185 million.
Some 57 years after independence, colonial buildings, relics of a bygone era, remain the headquarters of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC).
Driving towards the station, I catch glimpses of decades-old tracks overgrown with grass.
Discarded carriages, train parts and equipment are scattered around the compound.
A 30-minute train ride upstate takes us to a station called Iju, in a suburb of Lagos.
We are at a building site alongside the old railway line where workers are laying the foundation for new train tracks by hand.
They are constructing 144km (90 miles) of modern tracks connecting the bustling coastal city of Lagos to Nigeria’s third-largest city, Ibadan, in the second stage of the government’s railway modernisation project.
The first – the railway between the capital, Abuja, and the northern city of Kaduna – was completed last year.
The third will be to link Kano in the north of the country to the coastal cities of Port Harcourt and Lagos in the south.
The work, NRC managing director Freeborn Okhiria explains, is aimed at upgrading the rail to a wider track.
“It’s easier and faster and cheaper,” he says. “You can move more people, more goods, more speed, better poundage of the rail – instead of moving 40 tonnes per wagon you can move 80 tonnes.”
For Nigerians who are forced to deal with congested, damaged roads after years of neglect in densely populated cities such as Lagos, the lines cannot come soon enough.
“It’s going to ease a lot of things, it’s going to bring development, it’s going to make life easier for the common Nigerian,” Gabriel Shepkong, a naval officer, tells the BBC.
But it will come at a price: the final bill is estimated at $36bn (£25.9bn).
Yet Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of transport, says it will be money well spent as it is “critical to development” in Nigeria.
“The cost of goods, including commodities and services, are on the rise because of [the] poor transportation network,” he tells the BBC.
“Most countries which have no railway are slow to develop. We think that it’s time to increase the pace of development.”