Retooling, Securing the Abuja-Kaduna Rail Service | THISDAYLIVE

2022-06-16 10:00:27 By : Mr. Jason Ma

Two months after the dastardly attack on the Abuja-Kaduna Rail, Chiemelie Ezeobi reports on the need to not just retool the rails across the country, but also ensure utmost security of lives and properties

On March 28, 2022, the AK-9 Kaduna-bound train from Abuja was attacked by heavily armed bandits, who first planted explosives on the rail that made the train derail from the racks, giving the bandits leeway to abduct the passengers. 

With 11 coaches on the train worked by Loco 2502, broken down to be four SPA coaches with 56 sitting capacity per coach and seven SP coaches with 88 sitting capacity per coach,  the 840-seat capacity however, had a train manifest of 362 validated passengers that boarded that fateful day. Fatality The attack led to the death of nine persons and the abduction of many, including an aged woman, a nursing mother, among others.

Survivors Out of the total number of passengers, a total of 170 passengers have since reunited with their families and loved ones.

Missing Persons However, based on the figure released by the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), 141 persons out of the 362 passengers  are still missing.

Contrary to suggestions that they have moved on, the NRC reiterated that they are still committed to the safety of all  passengers and staff on board the ill-fated train service.  Stressing that they will continue to collaborate with security agencies to ensure all persons being held are rescued unhurt and reunited with their families soon, the corporation also pledged to enhance security of the tracks. 

Suspension of Rail Services  As expected, the magnitude of the incident led to the suspension of rail services on that Abuja-Kaduna Train Service (AKTS) route to enable repairs to take place.

Recovered Rails According to the NRC, to recover the rails, there were a co-ordinated two-pronged simultaneous restoration approach. While Loco 2702 with re-railment and restoration materials departed Idu Station, Abuja to the bomb blast site, another team with Loco 2502 departed Rigasa Station, Kaduna with re-railment and restoration materials to the same site.  As at April 1, 2022, Coaches SP00004, SP00009, SP00012, SP00013 had all been re-railed and safely taken to  Rigasa Station in Kaduna while restoration of track began immediately. According to NRC Managing Director, Fidet Okhiria, half of the capsized Coach SP 00003 was pushed back to a standing position while  Coach SPA 00002 was re-railed and pushed to Rigasa station, Kaduna.

Repairs Almost immediately, repairs began in earnest and the corporation successfully completed work on the damaged portion of the Abuja-Kaduna rail track by connecting the Abuja-Kaduna Train Service. According to Fidet,  “this implies that the major track components (concrete sleepers and rails) have been completely laid. The south end of the tracks (which was destroyed by the explosion) has been successfully joined with the north end.  “Track access between Abuja and Kaduna is now restored. The technical team continue with other track works including ballasting, temping, fastening of accessories (clips, bolts and nuts) and welding.

“Loco 2502 which was involved in the accident (though not damaged) and trapped at the Rigasa end due to lack of route access has now crossed to the Idu end and taken to the workshop for proper examination and routine maintenance.”

Resumption Hiccup Although the federal government, through the Federal Ministry of Transportation (FMoT), directed that the Abuja-Kaduna Train Service (AKTS) should resume on May 23, 2020, the families of the missing passengers had vehemently opposed that.  According to them, it would be an anomaly that the train service would resume when their loved ones are still in captivity. However, the said day for resumption didn’t stand as the NRC postponed it. While apologising for the delays in the resumption of the service, they said a new date would be announced soonest.

Pledging to continue cooperating and collaborating with the federal government in its uncompromising mandate of protecting the territorial integrity and the internal security of Nigeria for safeguarding the lives and property of its citizens especially as it concerns the rail sub-sector, the NRC also “identified with the relatives of those in captivity on the account of the recent attack on AKTS to be rest assured that the federal government is alive to its responsibility for the safe rescue of all persons being held hostage”.

NIN Requirement for Passengers Nonetheless, whenever the train services would resume, things would no longer remain the same in terms of using the train. Now, passengers will be required to provide their NIN registration for verification prior to purchasing train tickets. This is for improved passenger profiling and safety on-board.

Additional Security MeasuresAs the rails are set to resume, one trepidation passengers have been harbouring is expectedly security. But for the NRC and the ministry, it’s a case of once bitten, twice shy. To tackle this challenge and put the minds of their passengers at rest, the NRC, without prejudice to divulging operational secrets, said additional security measures have been put in place. According to them, the additional security measures being put in place at both the train stations and the track is to ensure the safety of passengers onboard.  Also, such measures are not only for the Abuja-Kaduna Train Service (AKTS) but also for all the passenger train services, especially on the standard gauge railway lines. Meanwhile, the then Minister of Transportation, RT Hon Rotimi Amaechi had earlier disclosed that the Air Force will over-fly the trains so that anybody they see trying to compromise the tracks will be shot at. “People who have no business being on the track should stay away, because if they see anything suspicious, they will shoot,” he reiterated. 

But prior to the attack, moves by the minister to procure digital security architecture to secure the rail lines was met with what he termed “bureaucraticbottleneck”. According to him, they were not able to install the security sensors because the procurement process was a bit difficult depsite the fact that with the security apparatus, drones can inform the system when there are people around the rail tracks, as the equipment picks up sensors when the tracks are bridged, thereby making it possible to respond to danger.

While there are still fears about holistic safety, for its teeming passengers,  resumption of the train services would go a long way in easing the transport challenges the suspension of the rail services brought.  According to them, the suspension of the rail had aggravated travellers risk of attacks as most of them have been forced to travel by road, coupled with the increase in flight tickets, which has made it difficult for the common man to fly. 

Quote“Whenever the train services would resume, things would no longer remain the same in terms of using the train.Now, passengers will be required to provide their NIN registration for verification prior to purchasing train tickets. This is for improved passenger profiling and safety on-board”