The Lagos Blue Rail Line: A Game Changer – OpEd


For the long-suffering commuters in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, the inauguration of the Blue Rail Line on September 4, was nothing short of a game changer in a city notorious for chaotic traffic congestion that has been the bane of vehicular movement in the megacity. Due to traffic congestion in the city, commuters spend an average of six to eight hours daily commuting to and fro in the city with its attendant health hazards and risks, and, of course, the consequent environmental pollution. Because of this, Lagos with a population of about 20 million had earned the dubious distinction as one of the most stressful megacities to live in the world. 

The completion of the project is expected to bring relief to millions of commuters. For a megacity, it was inconceivable that the single vehicular transport mode would transport commuters to and fro daily and adequately serve a city with such a huge population. The need for a multi-modal transportation system including road, rail and water transportation was long overdue. Over the years, the impact of a single mode of transportation on the health of commuters has yet to be assessed and determined. 

Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu disclosed that the rail projects embarked upon by the state government will gulp over 100 billion naira during a recent interview on Sunday Politics, a political programme aired on Channels Television.

“It is a lot of money, it is well over N100 billion,” he said in reaction to the cost of the rail projects being constructed by the state government.

The Blue Line project is a 27-kilometre rail route designed to run from Okokomaiko eastwards to Mile 2 and then proceed to Marina via Ijora. The five stations have been completed, with 13km of the rail tracks laid in the first phase. Phase 1 of the Blue Line is 13km long with five stations: Marina-National Theatre-Orile-Suru-Alaba-Mile 2. The full line which extends to Okokomaiko is set to be 27 kilometres (17 mi) and is expected to carry thousands of passengers daily.

The first phase of the project will transport 250,000 passengers daily, while the completed 27 km second phase will transport about 500,000 passengers daily. Each train comprises four coaches and each coach can take up to 180 passengers conveniently.

The Blue Rail Line project was conceived as an innovative mode of intra-city transport network system, with the specific aim of moving the state away from its heavy reliance on a single transportation mode, for which it has been known for decades. Lagos is perhaps the only megacity that relies on a single transportation system.

In February 2021, the Lagos State Government announced that the Blue and Red Lines would be open by December 2022. Due to several factors including funding shortages and change of leadership, the projected completion time was missed several times.

The Lagos Blue Rail Line is a part of the Lagos Rail Mass Transit (LRMT) system, which aims to improve transportation in Nigeria’s largest city. The Blue Line is one of the seven planned lines in the LRMT system.

The Blue Line will run on an elevated track and cover a distance of approximately 27 kilometres, connecting Okokomaiko in the northwestern part of Lagos to Marina in the central business district. It will pass through densely populated areas, including Mile 2, Orile, and Iganmu. As part of the project, Lagos State has built an 18MW power plant for the Blue Rail Line.

With its completion, the Blue Line is expected to alleviate traffic congestion in Lagos by providing a reliable and efficient mode of transportation. It will also help reduce carbon emissions by encouraging more people to use public transportation instead of private vehicles. An efficient transportation system is the lifeblood of any modern economy.

At the same time, work is progressing on the 37-kilometre Red Rail Line project which will take off from Ebute-Meta to Alagbado and is expected to be completed and ready for use by December 2023, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said during the commissioning of the Blue Rail Line. The Red Rail Line will depend on the existing Nigeria Railway Corporation network corridor.

Also, the red line is part of the Lagos rail mass transit (LRMT) scheme. The 37 Kilometer rail route will run from Agbado to Marina with 13 stations in Agbado, Iju, Agege, Ikeja, MMIA International, MMIA domestic, Oshodi, Mushin, Yaba, Ebute-Metta, Iddo, Ebute Ero, and Marina.

Both projects are being undertaken by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) in collaboration with the federal and state governments. The construction of the Blue Line began in 2010, but progress has been slow due to various challenges, including funding constraints and land acquisition issues.

Despite the setbacks, the Blue rail line has finally come to fruition. It is expected to significantly improve the mobility of Lagosians, create job opportunities, and stimulate growth and development along its route. Most of all both the Blue and Red Rail Lines will serve as a remedy to the high cost of public transportation due to the removal of the oil subsidy. 

Generally, the Lagos Blue Rail Line is both a milestone and significant infrastructure project aimed at transforming transportation in Lagos and enhancing the quality of life for its residents who spend several hours in traffic gridlocks daily. 

In 2019, Sanwo-Olu reaffirmed his commitment to bringing the Blue and Red Line projects to a conclusion during the tenure of his administration as part of measures to combat the menace of gridlock and wasted man-hours in Lagos.

The history of the Lagos Metroline network dates back to 1983 when it was initially conceived by the first civilian governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande. But Jakande’s vision for an intracity rail line was scuttled by the military coup of December 31, 1981, when shortly after, Major General Muhammad Buhari who emerged as head of state announced the cancellation of the metro line project with military finality. Specifically, the initial Metroline project was scrapped in 1985 by then-Major General Muhammadu Buhari at a loss of over $78 million to the state taxpayers.

In effect, this was a project conceived more than 40 years ago but finally came to fruition in 2023. It has been an arduous journey. But the vision and foresight of Jakande’s successors kept the dream alive. With the return to civil rule in 1999, Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu who emerged victorious on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy, AD kickstarted the project once again. 

In 2003, the then governor, Bola Tinubu, revived the rail network for Lagos State with a formal announcement of its construction. The initial cost of $135 million was proposed for the greater Lagos Urban Transportation Project to be implemented by the newly formed Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA). LAMATA initially concentrated on developing a Bus Rapid Transit system, running from Mile 12 to Lagos Island. In 2008, LAMATA to make progress with the rail project, began focusing on the Blue Line and the Red Line.

Lagos Rail Mass Transit is a rapid transit system managed by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA). The railway equipment including electric power, signals, rolling stock, and fare collection equipment will be provided by the private sector under a concession contract. LAMATA is responsible for policy direction, regulation, and infrastructure for the network. 

Back in 2003, Governor Bola Tinubu articulated the first pillar of his development agenda, themed ‘THEMES,’ which is traffic management and transportation, with others including health and environment, education and technology, transforming Lagos into a 21st-century economy, entertainment and tourism, and security and governance, all of which his administration had vigorously pursued.

“Our vision for an integrated transport system is enunciated in the Traffic Management and Transportation pillar of our T.H.E.M.E.S agenda. Our transportation strategy is a multimodal one, bringing together the various elements of the road, rail, and water, and ensuring they are seamlessly integrated,’ then Governor Tinubu stated. 

The trajectory of the rail project also involved the acquisition of the trains, which resulted in several changes to the initial plans. For example, in September 2011, LAMATA announced that it would acquire some H5-series subway trains formerly used by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). The cars were to be refurbished in the United States and converted to standard gauge before being imported and put into service on the Blue and Red lines. The same contract also included an option for some H6-series subway cars from the TTC, however, this has since been cancelled. 

However, in January 2015, LAMATA opted for Chinese-built trains instead, ordering 15 electro-diesel multiple units from CNR Dalian with an option for 14 more. About 76 H5 cars that had been taken for refurbishment to Buffalo, New York, have been scrapped by August 2015.

In August 2018, LAMATA signed an agreement with Alstom. As a part of the agreement, Alstom conducted a review of the rail lines. After the review of the rail project, which should have initiated passenger activity, the state government said the Blue Line, would now be ready for passenger operation by 2022. This deal also plans for the electrification of a portion of the track.

Moreover, in January 2022, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu visited the US state of Wisconsin, to announce the purchase of two Talgo VIII trainsets for service on the Red Line. They had been ordered by Wisconsin for use on the Amtrak Hiawatha Service in 2009, but they were never placed in service and were instead stored. Talgo VIII cars are based on the unique technology of the Talgo Pendular model, which (similar to a bicycle rider) leans into a curve resulting in less sideways force and a higher comfort for passengers when driving over a curvy track. The “leaning” of the car is passive e.g. it happens purely by the resulting force, without electronics, sensors or engines.

With the completion of the rail project and acquisition of trains, eventually, operations began last year, which renewed expectations for improved transportation. However, the megaproject’s implementation has been fraught with ups and downs.

Back in May 2012, Lagos government initiated negotiations with potential investors for the operation and maintenance of the line.

The Blue Line Rail project was awarded through international competitive bidding and won by China Civil Engineering Construction Company, a subsidiary of China Railway Construction Corporation.

On Jan 24, 2023, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the first phase of the Lagos Mass Transit Blue Line Rail Project. Also, on September 4, 2023, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu officially opened the Blue Rail transit for public use. 

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said many residents of the state could use the metro with their payment cards used for public transport means. “Almost 4 million citizens have the Cowry card already and so this Cowry card will be used on the train,” the governor said. He also announced a 50 per cent slash in rates of the Blue Line.

It is a grand irony that then General Muhammadu Buhari who cancelled the Lagos metro line project in 1985, on his second coming as a civilian president went on to commission the Lagos Blue Rail Line system in January 2023. By the time the Red Rail Line commences operation in December as envisaged, Lagos would have joined the ranks of megacities with an effective transportation system. 

The project is a salute to the vision and commitment of the successors of Alhaji Lateef Jakande who first initiated the project in 1983. Both Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and his predecessors deserve kudos for the successful inauguration of the first phase of the Lagos Blue Rail Line project.

Kola King

Kola King is a Nigerian journalist and novelist. He worked for more than two decades as a reporter, correspondent and editor in major national newspapers in Nigeria. He's the founder of Metro newsletter published on Substack. His debut novel A Place in the Sun and was published and released in 2016 by Verity Publishers, Pretoria, South Africa. His writing has appeared in Kalahari Review, The Missing Slate Literary Journal, The New Black Magazine and Litro magazine. He earned a Bachelors degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos.

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