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Nigeria to Build First Light Rail System for West Africa

The Lagos state government in Nigeria has approved plans to build the first light rail system in West Africa. Plans call for seven double-track lines across the state but initial construction will be limited to two lines -- the Red and Blue. The government plans to begin awarding construction contracts by the end of the year and will accept bids from both local and international investors. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Jacqueline Ogoh in Lagos says traffic in Lagos is often a mess. Workers face a daily challenge just getting to and from work.

With more than 13 million people driving some three million private cars and 75,000 commercial vehicles, the Nigerian port city needs to find a solution.

Government officials say they have one - a light rail system that can move 40,000 passengers an hour on two lines.

"When you are talking of mega cities, the mass transportation system has a back bone called rail mass transportation system," said Ayo Mobereola, the managing director of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority. "We must have a mass transportation system in Lagos. It's long overdue. We have invited international consultants to give us preliminary designs and to give us feasibility study."

Lagos has a strong economy, but government officials say the state can double its gains if an efficient rail transport system is in place.

The current rail system is poorly maintained and cars are often overloaded, with passengers hanging dangerously by the door or sitting on top of the train.

A quick survey of passengers hurrying to catch the first train of the day at 6 a.m. indicates strong public support for the government's plans.

"From this old system they need an improvement. They need new engines," said one passenger.

"This one takes more of the masses than even the airplane," said another passenger. "So the government should look into it."

"There's always traffic jam, traffic build-up along the roads," said one other passenger. "But when you ply the rail there's nothing like traffic jam. You get to your place on time."

The Lagos state government introduced a bus system in March, but there are not enough buses to move the state's huge population. Long lines at bus terminals are the norm.

Mobereola says the new light rail system will take care of this problem, with both the Red and Blue Lines carrying passengers from the mainland to Lagos Island - the country's economic hub.

"The Island is where the economic activities of Lagos is at the moment. So everybody on the mainland goes to the Island in the morning for business, and in the evening they all descend this way to go home. So we know that that is where the problem is. Ordinarily, people should not walk more than 500 meters to get to a very good transportation system. But we are also saying that this transportation system doesn't necessarily have to carry you from point A to B. You can change in the middle. If you are going to some other place, you can take a rail system, change to bus system or change to water system, to take you to your final destination.'

Lagos state has not announced the total cost of the project, but officials say they will seek competitive, international bids to build the system, maintain tracks and provide coaches.

The Red and Blue lines are expected to be begin operation by 2011.