The soft Christian music emanating from the loudspeaker on the balcony caused Omolara Egbedina to hum softly, nodding her head in tune with the slow rhythm. The time was 4pm and the place was inside a train coach at Ebute-Metta Junction.
After her day’s work as a primary school teacher in a school at Oyingbo, Mrs Egbedina was heading for home at Agbado area of Lagos State. The journey would last up to two hours, if taken by road, and would cost more than the N120 train ticket she clutched in her right hand.
“If I take a bus home, I will spend more than N300, and there will be hold up,” she said.
“So I prefer to wait for the train. They are even entertaining us with music here.”
Three train rides depart from the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) at Ebute-Metta Junction daily. The first departs at 5pm, the second at 6pm, and the third at 7pm. The final destination is Ijoko, in Ogun State, with other stops at Yaba, Mushin, Oshodi, Shogunle, Ikeja, Agege, Iju, Agbado, and Itoko. A N120 ticket takes one to any of these destinations, but for those who prefer the first class treatment in an air-conditioned coach, the fare is N500.
Waiting for departure
Passengers were seen coming to the train station in small numbers from 4pm and settling down for the trip. While they waited, some helped themselves to different snacks offered by hawkers around the train, while some just chatted or sat quietly. A middle aged man dressed in a black suit walked in at 4.15pm and promptly put his head on the table as soon as he sat down. Soon after, his snores filtered around the coach to the discomfort of other passengers.
“I hope he doesn’t sleep off and forget where he will stop,” an elderly man dressed in buba and sokoto (traditional attire) said aloud. He identified himself as Daniel Aluko, a building materials supplier who has his shop at Iddo.
“Ah! Train ride is much better now. You can see how neat the place is. Even the toilets are neat too, and the journey is very fast. I take train everyday to my house at Agege. Before, it was not like this. It was very rough and unorganised, but thank God, it is getting better now,” he said.
At 4.30pm, the train’s horn blared, signalling the preparation for departure, and sending passengers scampering into the coaches. At 4.57pm, another sound of the horn filled the air, this time, lasting up to two minutes. Passengers who couldn’t find seats at this time opted to stand, rather than wait for the next train. Promptly at 5pm, the train eased out of the station.
Segun Esan, the public relations officer of the NRC, explained that standing in the train was usually the passengers’choice.
“The train operates based on a predetermined time schedule. The ideal thing is for anybody who wants to come on the train to be at the station before the take off time. The time between the take off and arrival of the train is so arranged that anybody who wants to get on the train and enjoy its services can do so easily. Standing on the train is not really the fault of NRC, it is the passengers choice.
“Some passengers prefer to stand when they get to the station and all the seats are occupied, rather than wait for the next one, sometimes because of time constraints. For those that wish to come on the train and stand, it is by choice,” Mr Esan said.
Paying more for better services
The first stop at Yaba was just two minutes away, but happened to be the longest stop, as the train slowed to allow traders who sold their wares on the rail tracks move off the tracks. Road traffic on both sides of the train was brought to a halt and commuters were forced to wait for the train, which ran through a major road to pass. More passengers got on the train and the journey continued to Mushin. Soon, an NRC official began moving around the coach, perforating passengers’ tickets to prevent them from being used again.
Tunde Jakande, a student who got on the coach at Yaba, expressed his satisfaction with the train ride.
“I am going all the way to Ijoko so this train is better and cheaper for me. Some passengers will come down soon, maybe I’ll get a seat. I just wish there were more trains so passengers won’t have to stand like this. The first class coach is too expensive, please tell them to reduce it,” he appealed.
Mr. Esan again explained why the first class coach is so priced. “To ride on a business class coach that is equipped with an air conditioner, television, and some other conveniences, you should expect to pay a little above the fare of those that ride in the economy class,” he said.
“In a business class coach, once all the seats have been taken, nobody will be allowed to stand. The comfort as well as the luxury attached to a business class train should be maintained. It is not actually for every Tom, Dick, and Harry. It is a matter of affordability, which has a very wide spread.
“We have deliberately decided to introduce that into our product mix in order to bring in people of the higher class in the society on to the train. We want car owners to come on the train and feel the luxury, comfort, and convenience they have in their various cars. It saves them a lot. That increases the advantages of the train as being not only safe and convenient, but very affordable and pocket friendly,” he said.
Explaining why the cooling facility is limited to some coaches, Mr Esan said the economy and business class coaches were manufactured differently with different facilities in them.
“The economy class coaches are manufactured like that without air conditioner on them, while the business class coaches are manufactured with air conditioner. It is not out of our own volition that we don’t put air conditioners on the economy class coaches,” he said.
All other stops were quite swift as passengers alighted and boarded the train. At 6.08pm, the train slowed to a final stop at Ijoko. A woman who sat beside the sleeping, suit-clad man tapped him gently.
“Ah, we don reach? Thank you,” he said, rubbing his eyes.