By Olatunji Saliu
Driving along the Central Railway Station in the Nigerian capital Abuja, Yinka Olodeokuta, a local taxi driver leading his two passengers on a tour of the city, stopped to take pictures of the sprawling building that houses the train station.
“This will likely be the first port of call for most travellers, especially those making their first trip to Abuja, in the future,” Olodeokuta said.
“This particular railway station will make a major landmark in this city,” he said, referring to the Central Railway Station.
The railway station, also known as the Abuja Metro Station, located behind the Abuja World Trade Center still under construction in the city centre, houses ultra-modern facilities including shopping areas and eateries.
As the hub of the light rail transportation network, the Abuja Metro Station also has a modern signal station with effective video surveillance by eight local workers and two Chinese.
“This light rail facility is the first of its kind in our country,” Olodoeokuta said, oblivious that when it begins full operation, the light rail might adversely affect his own business.
“As long as it beautifies our city and the people are excited using it, I have no problem with this,” he added.
With a total length of 45 kilometres, the newly completed Abuja light rail project, was constructed by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) Nigeria Limited.
It covers 12 stations, 21 operational offices, 13 bridges, 50 culverts and nine pedestrian overpasses.
“I am more excited because the construction of this light rail and its use will open up new towns and boost economic activities along the corridor of Gwagwa, Kalgoni, DeiDei, Kubwa, Kokoaba, Dasonga, Asa, among 12 satellite towns in Abuja,” said Yusuf Alao, a local security personnel.
Although it is not the same as the national rail, the light rail was designed to have an interface with the national line at two points — Idu and Gwagwa, where there would be interchanges to join the rail line linking the northern part of Nigeria.
Abuja, with a population of 4 million, is a relatively new city in Nigeria, but one of the fastest developing cities in Africa.
Daniel Obot, a civil servant said the local transportation experience in the city of Abuja, being the political capital and one of the most important cities in Nigeria, may never be the same again as the train service is expected to cut down travel time from one location to another within the city, at a lower cost.
“Nigerians had long anticipated the use of this facility. It ought to have been completed a long time ago; we learned it was delayed due to some challenges,” Obot said.
On a test-run of the train service together with hundreds of passengers on April 28, Dennis Nzube John-Paul, a student of the Confucious Institute at the Nnamdi Azikwe University in Nigeria’s southeastern state of Anambra, said the trip gave him a lot of memories to share as his first experience on a train.
“I’ve heard people talk so much about their experience on a train, but this personal experience is one I can never forget,” John-Paul said.
As the train moved from the Abuja Metro Station to the Abuja Airport Terminal, John-Paul and two of his schoolmates entertained other passengers with songs.
The trip from the Abuja Metro Station to the Abuja Airport Terminal covers a distance of 28 km.
For now, the train service is being tested with three coaches that can convey more than 300 passengers.
Yang Qiulin, head of operations of the CCECC in Abuja, said the construction of the light rail lasted six years and was completed last December.
The light rail will begin its full operation, after a three-month test run.
*Saliu reports for the Chinese News Agency, Xinhua