Charismatic, sound and a reporter’s delight, the Lagos District Railway Manager of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Engr. Jerry Oche responded to some questions from Transport Day recently.
What are the major challenges you face as a district?
Well, I won’t say there are challenges peculiar to my district, I think it is just the general challenges railway faces right now, but again before we talk about challenges, we must also appreciate this present government for the interest they have shown in railways. I have not seen any government that starts a railway project of this magnitude; Lagos-Ibadan- 312Km, up and down line and the project is almost completed as we speak.
I mean they have awarded contracts for locos, for coaches, for the standard gauge.
Now coming to the narrow gauge, part of the challenges of the narrow gauge is lack of locomotives, coaches, spare parts and others because it is all about capacity. If I do an hourly train in Lagos, I will still carry people because Lagos is metropolitan. If you see my normal train, you will see a lot of people hanging on it, they are hanging because I don’t have the capacity to carry all of them inside.
I know you have had a lot of campaign against people hanging on the trains, how have you carried that out?
I am going to be frank with you, Nigerians, we are a very difficult set of people. I have always said this, with all sense of decency, anybody that is hanging on the train for me, I see that person as somebody on a suicide mission. I will give you a practical situation, you are on top of a train and the train suddenly stops and you fall, if you are lucky, you will fall outside the train, if you are not lucky you are going to fall in between the train. If you fall in between the train, the track is iron, the wheels are iron, everything in railway is iron.
Okay now, imagine iron and the human body, you know what is going to happen. I have had cases of people falling, not even from on top, hanging, falling into the train and getting crushed, killed, some will be cut into two. Why must you take that risk? It is not worth it.
Okay, you want to get to work, that is why you want to follow the train, unfortunately, you came and you did not get the seat you wanted and you want to hang, what if you don’t make it to that work today? The work is going to continue, you are gone, and your family will lose. We have a rule, every passenger that buys a ticket is entitled to a seat inside the train, if you don’t have that seat, return the ticket and get your money back and use another means.
You or any other persons could say, but RDM if you know that everybody is supposed to get a seat, why don’t you stop selling when the coach is filled up? Our train is not computerized, we are using a mechanical system and don’t forget, when we are selling we have maybe two, three, four ticket sellers per time and it is not just one spot, we sell at different stations, we are selling at Kajola, Ijoko, Agbado, Iju.
Without a computer system or whatever, how will the person at Iju know how many tickets you have sold at Agbado? All of them are selling, but if the train gets there and you don’t get a seat, you go back to them, give them the ticket, they give you back your money.
Is standing allowed?
Standing is allowed but at your own risk. Don’t forget, the diesel multiple unit doesn’t have your normal seats. The diesel multiple unit capacity is like 78 but the seat cannot take more than 20, the rest is standing. You can stand in the train but when it gets to the stage of you having to hang by the door, you are not even able to enter because the whole corridor is already blocked and you feel you have the ticket, you must go, it is not worth the risk. Even any object outside can pull you, we have cases of trucks ramming into our trains at level crossings and the people at the door are always the first hit.
This takes me to level crossing awareness, how do you do that? I was in Yaba recently, and I discovered that your signalmen don’t have uniforms, I supposed they are to be uniformed but it is not happening at Yaba and Jibowu.
All our signal/level crossing keepers have reflective jackets on, when they are on duty and if they don’t wear it, it means they are committing an offence. We don’t use uniforms but they must wear reflective jackets to differentiate them from any other person because you will just see somebody standing by the road stopping you, do you know who he is. And these reflective jackets are supposed to have NRC inscribed on them.
Then again, we have two types of level crossing, we have legal and illegal level crossing. Legal level crossing is a level crossing that we authorized, Yaba and Jibowu are examples. We are supposed to have people there, we call them level crossing keepers. There are other level crossings that are not authorized by us and are not binding on us to man them because we did not authorize.
Don’t forget, even the authorized level crossings, there is also what we call the level crossing maintenance fee that is supposed to be paid by the state and the local governments, this is not being paid. Do you know why we call the track, the permanent way? It is because it is assumed that every other thing meets the track.
So anytime a road is to pass the track, you ask us for permission, you are supposed to pay for maintenance for that road crossing the track and this we noticed, has not been forthcoming so we have been maintaining this level crossings from our own pockets.
In fact, part of the conditions for opening of level crossings is that the level crossing keeper will be paid by the people requesting it.