As rail transport system returns amid poor safety measures, Nigerians are witnessing a disturbing rise in train accidents according to reports.
A seven-year-old-boy was recently crushed to death by train in Osogbo, Osun State, while playing on the rail line.
Some two years ago, the boy might sleep on the rail line for a whole day and could only have been woken up much later by maybe the intensity of the sunshine or a downpour.
Then, traders also converted rail track to free market space to display their wares. Many people crossed the rail line and railway crossing without thinking that a train could be approaching.
But they no longer have that luxury. The trains have return and they are claiming the Right of Way.
Last year, the Nigerian Railway Corporation increased its daily frequency of trains in the Lagos district from 12 to 16. It was meant to ease the congestion on the popular Iddo/Apapa and Agbado/Ijoko mass transit train service.
The decision was applauded, especially coming a few weeks after the commencement of repair work on the Third Mainland Bridge, which led to its partial closure for over six months, with attendant gridlock on several roads leading to and out of Lagos Island.
But the increase in trains has regrettably raised the rate of accidents and near mishaps on the track.
For instance, a young lady was almost crushed about some weeks ago at Oshodi rail track by Apapa-bound train. She had clutched the headset of her GSM telephone to her ears, apparently enjoying some music or a deep conversation from and oblivious to the approaching train. The blaring from the train and the shouts from concerned people, she responded to none. It took a daring young man to practically drag her out of the track.
But a commercial motorcycle operator at Agege was not that lucky some weeks earlier.
He reportedly saw other road users waiting at both sides of the level crossing but decided to take a quick ride across the track. He got stuck and was crushed to death by the train
A man, who was standing on the train roof, watching the gory incident, apparently lost his grip.
He came crashing down. Parts of his body that fell on the track were said to have been compressed by the train; while other parts dropped off as the train moved on.
A middle-age man was also said to have had a scuffle with a ticket officer on Lagos mass transit train who had forced him to disembark for not obtaining the ticket for the journey.
The man reluctantly went down at the next station. The train was on the move while he was attempting to enter from another coach. His missed a step and fell off. And the man died immediately.
There was also a reported incident of a pregnant woman, who was killed in Ikeja following the collision of a train with a bus on a level crossing. The victim was a passenger in the bus.
Some of the mishaps also put the lives of train passengers at risk. For instance, over 900 train passengers would have perished on August 31 2012, as a passenger train rammed into a truck at the Ilupeju area of Lagos State. This led to a gridlock in the area for several hours.
A train passenger was killed and another broke his legs while rushing to board a moving train at Agbado Train Station, Ogun State, recently.
Over 80 per cent of rail accidents occur at the level crossings. The NRC said the report was based on a recent research of rail accidents, and warned pedestrians, motorists and other road users to be safety conscious when approaching the rail track.
It said the warning became necessary in view of its rising train operations across the country.
All the accident cases cited above were recorded in Lagos. Rooftop passengers were becoming a regular sight on the heavily congested mass transit trains until there was a public outcry and the railway police swung into action.
Lagos-Kano train has resumed operation after a major rehabilitation of the long distance track, the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, inaugurated the resuscitated rail line in Lagos last month.
This has expectedly boosted train operation along the entire railway axis.
The Abuja mass transit train is under construction. Over 80 per cent of the Ajaokuta-Itakpe rail line, the first standard gauge track, has been completed; while the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri line is to be revived after its rehabilitation soon.
Contracts for new rail lines are now being awarded. For instance, an approval for a standard gauge line between Lagos and Kano has been granted, with Lagos-Ibadan new line already awarded to China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation.
CCECC is currently developing the Lagos light rail from CMS to Okokomaiko (blue line); it will also most likely handle the red line (Iddo-Agbado) – both are standard gauge double track lines, which are part of the state’s mass transit scheme.
Already, new locomotives have been ordered; 25 new engines delivered earlier in the year by the General Electric have been introduced into the system to replace/complement the epileptic 50 Chinese engines initially supplied.
The Minister of Transport has also hinted of a review of Railway Act of 1955 soon, which will remove the exclusive right to run train from the Federal Government and allow state, local governments and interested private firms into the business.
And by implications, these are activities indicating that train operations are on the rise, which also explains the frequency accidents on the track.
People are worried about this. For instance, the Director-General, Lagos State Safety Commission, Mrs. Dominga Odebunmi, said the recent developments were an indication that safety measures were not in place at the train stations.
According to her, the state government cannot remain silent, knowing full well that necessary steps have not been taken to arrest the situation.
She said, “We will continue to mount pressure on the (Nigerian railway) management until they can demonstrate that they are on top of the situation, but right now we are not pleased with what they have on ground.”
The commission later held a meeting with the NRC team on the issue and a deal was struck on a joint security measures.
NRC has been enjoined to expedite work on the renewal of railway signalling system and the construction of new ones where necessary. The signalling system on the railway can be likened to the traffic light system on the roads where the system gives priority to a certain lane in order to avoid collusions and traffic jams.
They said the railway signals would alert many road users to the coming train, especially those in a hurry to beat traffic.
Signalling is globally viewed as the backbone to the safety and efficiency of the rail network.
Meanwhile, the NRC said it had commenced a safety campaign at its level crossings and some designated motor parks
Its Public Relations Officer, Mr. Segun Esan, said that the action was aimed at reducing the spate of collision of vehicles at the level crossings.
He said, “Facts and records of past instances of collision of vehicles with the trains have revealed that over 80 per cent of such accidents occurred at the level crossings.”
The safety campaign, he said, began with the involvement of members of the National Youth Corps attached to NRC as a project group.
The Deputy Director, Research, Health, Safety and Environmental Services, NRC, Mr. James Gyang, said, “The track is getting busier these days as frequency of trains keeps increasing and it will be most unfortunate if other level crossing users are not reminded from time to time of the need for extreme caution at the level crossings.”