Wanted: A successful, efficient rail sector

With the Federal Government’s renewed commitment to the railway sub-sector, Nigeria is on a sure path to joining the rest of the world in the use of speed train cars.
In April 30, 2014, at 1:54 p.m. eastern daylight time, 17 CSX Transportation (CSXT) tank cars of petroleum crude oil derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia United States (U.S.)
Three of the derailed cars were partially submerged in the James River. One was breached and released about 29,868 gallons of crude oil into the river, some of which caught fire. No injuries to the public or crew were reported. At the time of the accident, it was cloudy and raining lightly; the temperature was 53°F (11.67 °C). The CSXT estimated the damages at $1.2million, not including environmental remediation.
Using the railroad for transportation of people and goods has its advantages, especially when managed properly. However, it carries with it several risks, but when properly managed the railroad drives an economy that can deliver greatness and economic growth.
The Nigerian government in the last couple of years has worked tirelessly on improving the railway sector, an effort that is gradually paying off, we have seen the emergence of the beautiful passenger rail projects and some proposed cargo rail tracks picking up pace.
Many are of the opinion that with a working railway sector, there will be a decrease in the traffic gridlock caused by road haulage trucks, reduction in accidents caused by trailers, and hopefully avoidance of loss of lives.
While these are good things to hope for, we must come to the understanding that a working rail system whether passenger or cargo depends on basic factors that will determine its success or failure.
From the top story of 2014, which happened in United States, this was not the first accident of its kind and the impact was minimal when you consider the product transported, location and the time of the accident. A lot of factors had played part in the reduction of the impact.  Years of data collection on previous accidents that helped in
designing the rail cars differently, good maintenance system and records, top notch emergency response that evacuated a whole community before exposure to the primary incident and secondary exposure.
Also a community void of greed, what they thought of was safety for lives and property not rushing to the scene to scoop crude.  All these factors and many more contributed to the reduction in the impact of this accident.
A similar incident happened on July 6, 2013, a freight train carrying crude oil travelled into Lac-Megantic, Quebec Canada. This train derailed downtown and exploded, killing 47 people. An investigation by the appropriate authorities identified many causes and contributory factors. Some are: maintenance  issues, inadequate training, failure to  set enough hand brakes and leaving train unattended (human error). Since this accident  new regulations were put in place to avoid a similar incident such as using reinforced cars to ship oil (the type used in the U.S incident above)
As Nigeria advances it aspirations to develop the rail sector, we need to remember that most advanced nations are gradually moving from the old locomotive systems that had its faults and are using innovations to limit exposure thereby reducing accidents.
First, the speed that trains travel are getting faster in this age of amazon fast delivery, drone technology  and drive through services, it will only make sense to start our rail system at the pace of the technology available in the world around us  if we want any economic dividend from the multi-billion projects. It may not be sufficient to only have the infrastructures, but infrastructures that add value to
the generations to come.
When we talk about advancement in technology, here is an example of a recent scenario from Chicago, Illinois U.S. A typical drive to O’Hare airport in Chicago could last one hour or more by road, this is a similar distance from Lekki Peninsula to Muritala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, Nigeria. Currently, the Chicago Transit Authority, a public transportation agency,  advice people to travel by train and reduce the travel to about forty five minutes and you will be directly at the terminals. However, Elon Musk of the Boring Company proposed to build a tunnel to accommodate a fleet of self-guided, electromagnetically-propelled pods zipping between the Loop’s unused Block 37 “superstation” and the airport. Reaching speeds of 125-150 miles per hour, the system aims to make the trip in just 12 minutes.
While the last example may be out of the imagination of some of readers the cost of the project may be the same with present day Nigerian projects and if we  cannot use pods to transport goods and people in Nigeria we should not settle for the worst diesel propelled locomotives.
The key test of a transport system is its ability to deliver passengers or goods to their respective destination in as short a time as is reasonably possible, with due regards to issues of safety and quality of service.
Therefore, for a successful rail project, with a desire to compete and be profitable, the type of infrastructures used will determine how far we can go literarily and figuratively.  How many times have we decided to buy a new computer instead of upgrading the memory, but with a failed rail project a new one will cost almost if not more as the initial cost, for the economic savvy professionals it makes absolute sense to do it right the first time.
Source-The Nation
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