The Lagos state transport system may be on the verge of a major change with the apparent, imminent launch of the first phase of the Blue Line. The rail network is part of the proposed Metro Line in 1983 which was later advanced and incorporated into the Lagos State Strategic Transportation Master Plan (STMP) 20 years ago. It is also aimed at alleviating traffic congestion in one of the world’s most populated and dense cities. Scheduled for commercial operations in August, the Blue Line is both anticipated and met with scepticism.
The first phase of the Blue Line, a 13-kilometre stretch, was commissioned in January by former President Muhammadu Buhari. Since February, test drives have been ongoing. But the date for the launch of commercial operations continues to shift. First, it was the first quarter of 2023. Then, it was shifted to August.
In June, the managing director of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), Abimbola Akinajo, said it is “rounding off all testing processes for the commencement of full passenger operation in August this year.” In July, Abimbola told Business Day “the commercial flag-off would take place in the last week of August”. As the deadline looms, the spotlight intensifies on whether the project will meet its timeline.
What’s responsible for the delay?
After many years of delays, the Blue Line saw significant progress during Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s first term as Governor. A 27-kilometre rail route, the Blue Rail, is being constructed in two phases. For the first phase, the focus of attention now, five stations have been built at Mile 2, SuruAlaba, Orile-Iganmu, National Theatre and Marina. Six train sets, signalling and control networks, and training facilities were also established to elevate the operational capacity.
Unlike the Red Line which will run on diesel, the Blue Line is expected to be electric-powered. Facilitating the electric power source and the need for “two to three months” to test run it had been a primary cause of the delay for the Blue Line to commence commercial operation. Speaking at the commissioning, Governor Sanwo-Olu hinted that the first phase of the Blue Line would only be fully operational after completing a 750-volt-ampere independent power supply source.
Ikeja Record also gathered that the major cause of the delay is the need to channel the three-level power sources that will serve the train’s 80 km/hr speed and ensure efficient and secured operations. “We’re currently ensuring that electrical systems are in order,” Abimbola Akinajo said in late July. Sources told The Record the rail network requires a public power source (Eko Distribution), an Independent Power Plant (IPP) and a UPS system in each car.
At a time when transport fares are skyrocketing across the country because of the removal of fuel subsidy removal, the new Blue Line could bring relief to Lagosians commuting between Okokomaiko-Mile 2 axis of Lagos. Although the ticket fare has not been announced, the governor promised to make it affordable.
“I don’t think citizens will be breaking their backs. It will be affordable; N200, N250. It probably won’t be more than that,” the governor said in an interview in 2022.
To cushion the harshness of the fuel subsidy removal, the governor had recently slashed the fares for state-operated buses (BRT) by 50 percent. A similar measure might be anticipated for train fares.
When it begins operation, the train will move over 200,000 passengers daily between 5.30am to 11pm. Beyond improving transportation, the Lagos Blue Line, like the other five lines, seeks to yield significant economic, social, and environmental advantages for the state and its populace. Along its route is the Alaba International market, the Trade Fair Complex, and a road that leads to the Nigeria-Benin border. These are major economic hubs that drive local businesses and promote cross-border trade.