For someone who has very low expectations of public service in Nigeria, I must say I was very pleasantly surprised by my experience today traveling from Abuja to Kaduna by rail.
When I was informed yesterday of the need to be in Kaduna early today to meet with some state, local and field officers on a public health project, I agonized about getting to Kaduna by road until someone reminded me there was a train service.
I looked online and after some efforts, I was able to find a current train schedule that showed I could leave Abuja by 7 am and yet be in Kaduna in time for my 10 am engagement.
Unfortunately, like most government run stuff, the website of the Nigeria Railway Corp is very user-unfriendly and after wasting lots of time, I realized I couldn't buy tickets online.
Left home early and after almost being lost twice by Google Maps, a colleague dropped me off at the Idu Railway Station which is some way out of town. While the road to the station was okay, the location is quite remote and there doesn't appear to be commercial vehicles plying that route.
So you either need to have someone drop/pick you up. Once you get off the main road, there are clear signs indicating the direction to the station so I wished they had something on the main road too.
I was impressed by the structure and cleanliness of the structure - I personally think it beats any of our airports including the Lagos and Abuja airports ( I know its new but one year after I Am still impressed that we can keep something as clean as that!).
I joined the line to purchase my ticket (First Class tickets went for N1500 while standard tickets went for N1050, apparently the prices had recently gone up) and tickets for two colleagues who were to join me.
However, I was surprised that the clerk refused to let me buy tickets for others. She insisted I could only buy tickets for myself. I still don't fully understand the rationale for this.
Anyways, we passed through the security post and went through the nice looking waiting lounge and stairs to the platforms. Everything looked pretty impressive. There were clear and beautiful signs everywhere and the floor looked very polished and the quality of the walls and stones was impressive.
We got into the First Class section which had great looking seats. I loved that the seats had removable seat covers which makes maintenance easier.
The train kicked off from the Idu Station at 7 am on the dot as scheduled.
I wished there were ports to plug in my laptop or USB ports to charge my phone but that would be asking for too much right?
There was food available for purchase ranging from tea, coffee, rice, moin-moin, to meat pie, and chin-chin. We settled for tea midway into the journey.
There was an announcement of the presence of medical personnel onboard in case of any issues and from time to time I saw a lady dressed in white uniform (she looked more like an auxiliary nurse though) walking around.
There were TVs hanging at different points and about two different movies were shown during the ride.
The ride was pretty smooth, even though it was definitely not a fast train.
My colleagues poked fun at my excitement on being on my first train ride in Nigeria and my constant looking out the windows and taking pictures. They didn't understand how good I felt to be touring my country via train after visiting over 45 countries and yet having traveled to only a few parts of my own country.
We stopped at Kubwa, Jere, and Rijana stations to either drop passengers or pick people up.
I made a few observations along the way. We have massive fertile land that is grossly under-farmed. Compared to similar train rides in other countries I have undertaken where you see massive mechanized farms and tractors and plantations etc, I did not witness a single big farm. All I saw were scores of small farms and people tilling away with hoes and cutlasses as our ancestors did 500 years ago!
We arrived at the final station-Rigasa in Kaduna around 9.40am, meaning the whole ride took about 2 hours and 40 minutes. We then took a taxi from Rigasa into Kaduna for the day's engagement. Rigasa looked like a village that had suddenly been surprised by a rail terminal though.
In all, I had a great experience and would do it again. I wish we had such working rail services between all our major cities. It would encourage tourism and also reduce road traffic accidents.
I also hope they can secure more coaches so there are more trips than the two a day they currently have.
#OnASideNote, it is one thing to talk about innovation and stuff like that in Lagos and Abuja. It is another thing to interface with the men and women who have to work at the front lines of healthcare and disease surveillance and hear stories of people wading through streams just to deliver vaccines to hard-to-reach areas. #UnsungHeroes
#Sad to hear of people who are so poor that they see polio incidence as a poverty alleviation tool as it at least provides them with a job either in surveillance or immunization or training. We need to do better for our citizens.
#Impressive to see what Dangote and co are quietly doing in some rural areas around health system strengthening and innovation.