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Travelogue: A rail oddysey from Itakpe to Agbor

…the journey from Itakpe to Agbor by train was a blend of nostalgia, excitement, and challenges. While the experience was not without flaws, it illuminated the potential of rail transportation in Nigeria. Urgent attention to amenities, frequency of trips, security measures, and ticketing systems is imperative for a seamless and enjoyable rail travel experience. Nigerians are ready for efficient service, and it’s time for the authorities to meet and surpass these expectations head-on

GROWING up amidst the hustle and bustle of Oko-Oba in Agege, a Lagos suburb with the rhythmic beat of the train station nearby, life was a kaleidoscope of adventures. My childhood tales revolved around Oladoje Street, where my abode echoed with the distant chug of locomotives. The Agege train station, a gateway to mischief, was our haven, where daring street kids like me embarked on exhilarating escapades, leaping onto slowing trains and daringly leaping off as they thundered back to life.

Adulthood, however, introduced me to a more organised world of train travel during my European sojourns. The disciplined, safety-conscious train stations were a stark contrast to our daredevil missions of yesteryears. However, the return of rail transportation to Nigeria kindled a spark of excitement in me, as I prepared for a journey from Itakpe to Agbor in Delta State, rekindling memories and creating new expectations.

The backdrop for this expedition was the recent National Delegates Convention of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) in Asaba, Delta State. As the Abuja chapter deliberated on travel plans, the choice of the rail was a sensible one. Air travel, with its lofty expenses, and road trips, fraught with perilous road conditions, was not ideal. Thus, the decision was made to embark on a road-rail-road adventure.

Departing from Zuba Park in Abuja at 10 am, my journey began towards Itakpe, a suburb of Lokoja, in Kogi State. The anticipation of exploring the steel tracks and locomotives of the Itakpe railway, a symbol of Nigeria’s progress, surged within me. The three-hour journey unfolded smoothly until we reached Itakpe. However, our excitement faced a hiccup as the scheduled train from Agbor, arrived fashionably late.

A fellow traveler, sensing my restlessness at the delay, humorously remarked, “It will soon come, oga. It’s like this is your first time on this route.” The gentle ribbing led to a silent acknowledgment of the quirks of train travel. Despite the delay, the air buzzed with enthusiasm as passengers streamed into the waiting locomotive.

At 2:43 pm, the journey from Itakpe to Agbor set in motion. Some passengers found themselves seatless despite having valid reservations. The journey, marked by a leisurely pace, unfolded for a little over four hours, culminating in our safe arrival in Agbor around 7:15 pm. However, the welcoming darkness at Aghor train station, named after former President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, greeted us with challenges.
Navigating the unlit station with mobile phone torchlights, passengers raced against time to secure transportation to Agbor town, and their various destinations. The ensuing 90-minute road journey to Asaba offered a revealing snapshot of the deplorable state of our roads, reinforcing the appeal of rail travel.

The return journey from Agbor to Itakpe unfolded with its own set of dramatic twists. Accompanied by some senior colleagues who had endured a previous trip with uncomfortable first-class experiences, our pre-ordered tickets faced the hurdle of an overbooked train. Hence, we had to stand through the journey. The lack of restrooms at the Itakpe station which catered for hundreds of passengers daily, highlighted infrastructural shortcomings, emphasising the need for improved facilities.

Security Concerns
Security emerged as a paramount concern throughout the entire rail journey, underscoring the imperative for stringent checks at our train stations. The vulnerability of train stations to unexpected attacks and the potential for the destruction of lives and properties by unscrupulous elements loomed large. Unlike air travel, where security protocols are rigorously enforced, the visible absence of comprehensive security measures at train stations was glaring.

The lack of robust security checks at train stations raises alarming possibilities, allowing unchecked entry of passengers carrying hazardous items or weapons. With passengers arriving with luggage and cargo without any discernible security screening, the potential for malevolent individuals to smuggle explosives or dangerous substances onto the train undetected is a stark reality. This security gap not only jeopardises the safety of passengers but also poses a significant risk to the overall integrity of the railway system.

Addressing this vulnerability requires urgent and comprehensive measures. Implementing stringent security protocols, such as baggage screening, body checks, and surveillance systems, is crucial to fortifying the defense mechanisms of our train stations. The importance of adopting a proactive approach to security cannot be overstated, especially given the current climate of global security concerns.

Moreover, training and deploying security personnel trained to handle potential threats and emergencies are paramount. An effective security apparatus should include personnel equipped to manage various scenarios, from addressing minor disruptions to responding swiftly to major security incidents. The visible presence of security personnel instills confidence in passengers and acts as a deterrent to potential wrongdoers.

In addition, collaboration with law enforcement agencies is essential to strengthen the overall security framework. Coordinated efforts between railway authorities and law enforcement agents can enhance intelligence-sharing mechanisms, enabling timely responses to potential security threats. This collaborative approach reinforces the idea that security is a shared responsibility and requires a concerted effort from multiple stakeholders.

Fixing the Logistical Issues
The introduction of the online ticketing system, launched on November 2, 2023, heralded as a progressive step, encountered initial challenges that impacted the overall efficiency of the rail journey. Technical malfunctions in the system resulted in instances of over-subscription, causing inconveniences for passengers and disrupting the seamless flow of operations. The issues with the online ticketing system highlight the importance of a robust and reliable technological infrastructure to support the burgeoning demand for train travel.

Efforts to streamline the online ticketing process must involve a thorough assessment of the system’s functionality, addressing glitches, and implementing fail-safe measures to prevent over-subscription.

Enhancing the technological resilience of the ticketing platform is imperative for creating a hassle-free experience for passengers and ensuring the effective management of seat allocations. As the railway system aims to offer a convenient and modernised mode of transportation, investing in the optimisation of online ticketing processes becomes a pivotal aspect of providing a reliable and efficient service to the growing number of passengers choosing rail travel.

Economic Potentials
However, beyond this myriad of challenges, there lies immense potential for the development of the rail sector, particularly on the Itakpe to Agbor route. The current scenario calls for a strategic infusion of private investment or the licensing of private organisations to operate train services on this route.

Privatisation could bring about a range of benefits. First and foremost, private entities are often more agile and efficient in their operations. They can bring innovations to the table, implementing modern ticketing systems, ensuring timely schedules, and providing a more comfortable and secure travel experience for passengers, as is done globally.
Moreover, private investment in rail services could significantly enhance the frequency of trips, addressing the current limitations of just two trips per day. Increased operational efficiency would lead to a higher number of commuters, consequently boosting revenue generation for both the private operators and the government.

The economic benefits extend beyond the rail sector. Improved transportation infrastructure attracts businesses and investments, fostering economic growth along the route. It could catalyse the development of towns and cities connected by the railway, creating job opportunities and contributing to the overall socio-economic advancement of the region.

In conclusion, the journey from Itakpe to Agbor by train was a blend of nostalgia, excitement, and challenges. While the experience was not without flaws, it illuminated the potential of rail transportation in Nigeria. Urgent attention to amenities, frequency of trips, security measures, and ticketing systems is imperative for a seamless and enjoyable rail travel experience. Nigerians are ready for efficient service, and it’s time for the authorities to meet and surpass these expectations head-on.

A First Class passenger, Patrick, who had to sit on the floor due to lack of seat!!

 

 

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