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Obasanjo Flags Off $8.3b Rail Project
By Segun Adeleye

President Olusegun Obasanjo eyes a 10 per cent economic growth in the next "one or two decades," and he pressed on the vision on Tuesday as he laid the foundation of a $8.3 billion Lagos-Kano standard gauge rail line at Kajola, Ogun State.

It is the first in a scheme of five phases planned for the entire country.

He described the ceremony as a "red letter day in the history of Nigeria’s railway; in the history of the transport system, and in the economy of the country."

The distance of the rail line will be 8,000 kilometres (km) when completed in 2010, which multiplier effects Obasanjo said would raise fortunes in sectors such as mining, agriculture, tourism, local content development; as well as encourage auxiliary industries, among others.

After the Lagos-Kaduna line, other routes that would run concurrently include Lagos-Ibadan (181 km); Ibadan-Ilorin (200 km); Ilorin-Minna (270 km); MInna-Kaduna-Kano (360 km) and Minna-Abuja-kaduna (305 km).

Three longitudinal and five latitudinal backbones would be done to connect national economic and political centres at once.

Transport Minister, Habib Aliyu, said the 48-month period of the project includes the time for survey, design, and construction.

He recalled that rail passenger and freight figures declined from 16,000,000 in 1983 to 2,000,000 in 2003.

Aside from the hope that the project would stoke between eight and 10 per cent economic growth, it would offer efficient, safe, affordable, and sustainable transport system to deliver a "seamless intermodal and muiltimodal transport services and take advantage of the strength of each transport mode."

A consortium of Zenith Bank, First Bank, Standard Chattered Bank of England, Julius Berger, and another British bank, has pooled $1.4 billion to finance projects along the routes.

Director of Land Transport, Tunji Abolade, said a container terminal would be cited in Ogun as an adjunct.