With all the chatter going on about the new light rail being commissioned by Governor Fashola of Lagos State, it was quite surprising to learn that Lagos was in fact one of the first (if not the first) to have a railway line in Africa!
The Lagos Steam Tramway
In the late 1800s, the colony of Lagos had a stable government, legitimate trade channels and was in a period of prosperity and growth. In 1895, the colonial administrators – Governors MacGregor and Egerton – decided to develop a railway line from Lagos to the furthermost parts of Northeastern Nigeria, to open the interiors of the Southwestern Nigeria to commerce. In Lagos, a railway terminal was erected at Iddo to connect the Lagos Island with the mainland and act as a transit stop for the trains using the railroad bridge constructed along two major road networks that connected the Island with other parts of Lagos – the Carter bridge and the Denton bridge. Also in 1896, railway construction began from the Iddo are with extensions made along the Lagos route with stops at Otta, Ifo, Arigbajo, Papa Alanto, Abeokuta and Ibadan (1901). Financial reasons hampered the further development of the railway in Southern Nigeria and proposals linking Benin and Sapale (1906) and Ibadan with Oyo (1907) came to naught.
The opening of the Lagos Steam Tramway took place on May 23, 1902 and it was operated by the Lagos Government Railway. The original line ran north-west along the waterfront, from a point near Government House and the European residential area around the Race course, to Customs Wharf, where it turned north-east towards Ereko market and Idumota. A 95 ft-radius curve took the line north-westwards again, through Ebute Ero and over Carter bridge to the railway station at Iddo.
Rolling Stock consisted of ten passenger trailers with longitudinal back-to-back seats, built by the Ashbury Railway Carriage & Wagon Company of Manchester. They were 19ft long by 7ft 2in wide, double ended and fitted with tramcar-type hand brakes. The bodies were constructed with tubles with open sides and canvas screens for wet weather. The cars were four-wheeled, the axle-boxes being provided with coil springs. There were about 20 un-braked goods wagon, each 12ft long and 5ft 6in wide, all made by the same company.
Also in 1912, a rail line linking Apapa to Ebute Metta was built and in the same year, another line was built linking Jebba with Minna along the Lagos Railway.
The Baro-Kano railway line was predicated on developing the trade routes along the River Niger. In September 1907, the British government approved a credit of 2 million pounds (what!) to develop a railroad from Baro (lower point of the Niger) with the town of Kano, a major commercial center in the North. Construction began in 1907 and was completed in 1911 with the rail road going from Baro to Bida to Zungeru to Zaria and finally to Kano. The railroad was a narrow-gauge, single tract with a speed of twelve miles per hour. In 1912, a light rail from Zaria to Bauchi was built and further extensions were made along the Bauchi Light Rail linking the system with the tin producing fields along Jos and Bukuru.
The Nigerian Railways
The Nigerian Railways came into existence on October 3, 1912 by the merger of the Lagos Government Railways and the Baro-Kano Railway. The Railways became and autonomous public corporation in 1955. The line from Lagos to the North was started in 1896 and opened in stages with the first passenger train rolling into Kano in 1913, but it was not until 1916 that the bridge across the Niger was completed which replaced a temporary ferry. In the East, the first boat train pulled out of a new sea terminal at Port Harcourt in 1917 while the most recent major extension, the “Bornu Extension” was commenced in 1958 to tap the vast agricultural potential in the North East of the country running from Kuru to Maiduguri and was opened in 1963.
The gauge of the NRC track is 3ft 6in with a countrywide mileage of 2,680 equating to 4,313 kilometres but it is intended that eventually this will be superseded by the standard gauge track that is presently being installed on the new branch under construction from Ajaokuta (steel mill) to Warri. The highest point on the system is about 30 km outside Jos which is 1318 meters above sea level.
Let me start with the best part of my tour experience….the colonial architecture in the Railway Compound. I’m not sure there is any place in Lagos where this architecture style has survived in such good state. The compound is very serene and green. It definitely a great place to walk far from the hustle and bustle usually found in Lagos.
The saddest part of the tour of course was the general state of disrepair everything is in. The two steam trains that were restored by Legacy have been vandalized and is totally grounded. This is especially sad considering that about 12 years ago (2001) Legacy refurbished these steam trains to running shape – you can view these trains in motion during a visit to the Jakeal House Museum in the Railway Compound.
I didn’t know that our trains are named after important personalities, mostly presidents and it was interesting to discover that. It is heartening to see that the Railways is undergoing a revival with newer trains and schedules. I have never been on a train in Nigeria and I intend to get on one soon and will surely blog about the experience!
The Steam Trains. These were refurbished by Legacy, but the shed where they are kept is open and the trains have been vandalized and are rotting. 🙁 There is a video at the Jaekel Museum (located at the Railway Compound) where one can view a video of these trains in action after they were refurbished.
This is the turn table where trains are turned in a different direction.
Trains named after Very Important Personalities! It appears that the more relevant the person is, the better the train named after him looks. I did not see any trains named for women. I don’t know if there are any.
The Railway Running Shed.
I wonder what goes on in this laboratory….
Train in action.
Newer trains in the Running Shed.
The horns!!! I hear these from my office in Iddo everyday 🙂
Oga Jona’s namesake.
Train with passengers!
Found the train named after Abacha!
The red topped trains are actually cargo trains and I believe I was told they were filled with millet or wheat (not sure), some type of grain from the north.
Colonial Architecture – This is the Mechanical Drawing Office. I just love it!
I think this is a signal station.
More colonial era buildings.