The Nigerian government on Tuesday launched the commercial operation of the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri railway, a line linking the northern and southern regions of the most populous African country, which was undertaken by a Chinese construction firm as the major contractor.
The 326-km single track, constructed by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), is the country's first standard gauge railway, connecting the north-central Kogi state and Delta state in the south.
It will link people from different cultural backgrounds and expand trade and commerce, "which will lead to better standards of living for our citizens," said Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who attended a commissioning ceremony for the railway in Agbor, a town in Delta state, via live stream.
Buhari noted that his administration recognizes rail transport as a vital backbone to support industrialization and economic development, and deems the newly-completed line "as the central rail line" and an important link for the country's economy.
In addition to transporting passengers, the line will play a critical role in transporting iron ore from the central Itakpe to Warri port, and promote the development in the agricultural and mining sectors along the route.
Buhari said projections indicate that the operation of the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri line will generate close to 1 million passenger volume and approximately 3.5 million tons of freight annually.
Noting that the project had been abandoned by former governments since it was planned in 1987, Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi said the project has undergone delays and massive vandalization before it was recovered.
Now, the completion of the central railway line marks a step further in the general construction of the Nigerian railway networks, with a vision of three vertical and five horizontal lines in plan, promoting industrialization, jobs and economic development.
The Nigerian Railway Corporation said the ongoing railway networks across the country will greatly improve the convenience of safe travels for local residents, and will in turn have a positive impact on the economy and society as a whole.
Speaking at the commissioning ceremony, Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta state, said the project will help low-income earners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The project constructed by the CCECC since 2017 includes restoring the tracks, as well as building 10 stations and a railway ancillary facility yard.
"It is our hope to continue to partner with the government in the massive work going on in the railway sector," said Jiang Yigao, managing director of the CCECC.
"We will continue to offer our best services and cooperate with the government in its efforts to link all parts of the country to the national railway grid," Jiang added.
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