There are concerns over the disparity in fares charged by the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) between Southern and Northern part of the country which showed that the north was given preferential treatment. But the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) has explained the disparity, saying that some northern states subsidized the cost.
The NRC Lagos District Manager, Mr Jerry Ochei, gave the explanation on Wednesday in Lagos while reacting to passengers’ claim that there was preferential treatment in the charges. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Ogun/Lagos passengers had questioned the management’s criteria in fixing fares for its services in both regions of the country.
The NRC had on June 22, commenced its maiden free trial run aboard the Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge rail track. NAN reports that the corporation took delivery of three 80-passenger capacity standard gauge coaches, one 56-passenger capacity executive coach and one Parcel/Guard van coach on March 2.
The trial ride which took off from the corporation’s Idu Station in Abuja at 8.27 a.m. traversed the NRC stations at Kuchibon, Asham, Jere, Gidan, Rijauna, Dutse, Kakau and arrived in Rigasa in Kaduna at 12.42 p.m. The passengers grouse was that the corporation charged N900 and N600 for its business and standard classes respectively on its newly-introduced Abuja/Kaduna train services.
According to the passengers, if fares for 172km Abuja/Kaduna could be so low, why charge N750 for 35km in the Ogun/Lagos Diesel Multiple Units (DMU) and N230 for locomotive services. Ochei said that if the DMU was to operate in the north, its fare would be higher than that of the south because of the distance covered. The manager said that for Ogun/Lagos train fare to equally become low, the Ogun and Lagos governments needed to subsidise the cost.
NAN reports that the DMU was introduced on June 10, 2014, amid protests by some irate passengers over its N750 fare per trip. The protest was also over an increase in fare of the locomotive system from N150 to N230 per trip. The protest led to the damage of one of the DMU trains and setting ablaze of the Itoki Rail Station in Ogun which led to the arrest of people suspected to be behind the mayhem.
The passengers, however, told NAN, Ochei’s claim on subsidy was not the main reason the corporation charged higher in Lagos/Ogun than elsewhere. Mr Rafiu Owonikoko, a regular passenger from Agbado in Ogun to Mushin in Lagos, told NAN that the management was not fair in charging them so high for a 35km distance.
“When the DMU was introduced in 2014, we protested against the high charge and increase in fare of the locomotive service from N150 to N230. “We asked the management why the difference in charges between the north and the south with low charges in the north covering more kilometers and high charges here over few kilometers.
“The management instead of listening to us maintained its stance, saying that the increase was due to high cost of running the train,’’ Owonikoko said. A nursing mother, Mrs Suzan Lawson, said that charging high fares for a middle gauge train system was cheating compared to charging low fare for a standard gauge service.
“A standard gauge train is more spacious with more convenient facilities like toilet, eateries and has more speed compared with the middle gauge train with lesser facilities. Lawson noted that the DMU trains were common in countries with underground rail system and that the stations were not porous like the surface stations in Nigeria. She added that stations in underground train systems were provided with necessary facilities, including toilets, eateries, bank outlets, shopping complex, recreation centres and what have you.
“But our DMU here lacks all simple facilities. Train on standard gauge has all the facilities, moves faster and more convenient, so why charge high for DMU here,’’ Lawson said.
A septuagenarian lawyer, Mr Mathew Alabede, told NAN that due to its high charge, the DMU was hardly patronised and which forced the management to reduce its fare to N300 during afternoon service. “Before the introduction of the DMU, the management was fair in its services, but recently, the service has gone from bad to worse.
“The congestion in the locomotive train is beyond comprehension, leading to passengers collapsing on board,’’ he said. Hope Chukwuma, said her worry was that many officials of the corporation had witnessed how rail system operated smoothly in the advanced world, but had failed to replicate it in Nigeria. Chukwuma, a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member, urged the corporation to look into how the country could be efficiently covered with the railway transportation system to boost economic activities and enhance tourism.