By Sarah NEGEDU
Railway operations within the Federal Capital Territory remains suspended until a herd immunity from the coronavirus is achieved through wide vaccination coverage, the FCT Administration has said.
FCT minister, Malam Muhammad Bello, who dropped the hint when he received a delegation of the Nigeria Railway Corporation, NRC, said the decision to suspend operations of the Abuja light rail was made on health grounds and huge carrying capacity of the train coaches.
He said “When the Nigerian Railway Corporation re-opened their systems we couldn’t and it was simply based on health concerns. The Light Rail system, the way it is configured and even the coaches, the way they are designed are meant to sit very few people and to have almost 75 percent of the passengers in standing position. We realized that there was absolutely no way we could ensure social distancing in that situation.”
The minister added, “As you know, unless we reach a very wide coverage of vaccination and we have what the medical people call herd immunity, there is no way we are going to run the light rail system and ensure that passengers are conveyed in safety. That is the main reason why up till now, we have not resumed operations”.
Bello, however, assured that operations will resume in the near future, but said it depends on how the pandemic plays out, adding that the administration will work closely with the NRC for the actualization of the nation’s railway masterplan.
The minister said that the design of the masterplan envisages Abuja as the railway hub of the nation with the sheer number of lines will eventually crisscross the territory, added that the location of Abuja made it a natural choice for it to not only hold the position of railway hub but also the air hub of the nation.
In the words of the minister, “I wish to assure you that we will continue to work very closely with the Nigerian Railway Corporation to actualize the concept of the railway masterplan, that envisages Abuja as the hub, in terms of all the lines that will eventually crisscross here.
“Already, it’s an air hub and it’s only natural that it will also be a railway hub. It’s just the reality of geography. By its very location, it’s the natural thing to do and I assure you that we will work very closely with you to make sure that this is achieved”, he added.
Speaking earlier, the NRC board chairman, Engr. Ibrahim Musa, commended the FCT minister for his efforts in contributing to President Muhammadu Buhari’s focus in revitalizing the Nigerian railway sector through the Abuja metro rail system which was commissioned in 2018.