Rotimi Amaechi, minister for transportation, says reopening rail services in Nigeria could mean an additional 2,000 novel coronavirus infections per day.
The minister added that Nigeria will return to subsidising train transportation if rail services reopen with social distancing in place to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Speaking with Osasu Igbinedion on The Osasu Show, Amaechi said it is economically unwise to resume rail services now.
The former Rivers state governor said the rail service, which was incurring losses in 2016, had broken even and was making as much as N30 million in profits before the novel coronavirus struck.
“We are not in a hurry to reopen the train services, I had a conversation with the chairman in charge of the technical committee on COVID-19, and I did say economically it is not wise,” he said.
“First, you have about 88 passengers per coach, and for you to run social distancing on any of those coaches, then you have to do about 40 passengers per coach, you would be making a total loss.
“Currently we make about 120 million per month, and we spend about N90 million per month — at full capacity, and we spend about N90 million per month.”
‘REOPENING MEANS WE’LL BE BACK TO POSTING LOSSES’
The minister explained that the country would return to posting losses if the train services are reopened now.
“If you run at 40 passengers per coach, you will not be making like 60 million and still be spending N90 million, and then we are back to making a loss,” Amaechi added.
“You would have to then be subsidising the operational activities. We don’t have that kind of money now.”
Speaking on the health impact, Amaechi said one person could infect 40 people in a coach, and more.
“In terms of health, when I hear people say there is this equipment you will bring to spray and screen everyone you bring in to make sure they don’t have COVID, I say what about asymptomatic patients?
“Just one person can infect the 40 persons in a coach. The doors are open, if he moves around, the chances are that he would infect others. Until I am clear about how we would not infect people.
“Before COVID, we were moving 4,300 passengers per day — even if you bring it down to 2300 passengers, that means you’d be infecting 2,000 persons per day — that won’t be easy.”
The minister said he is trying to convince President Muhammadu Buhari to virtually commission the newly-purchased diesel multiple units (DMUs), which are faster.
“Once he commissions it, we’d do a test run with it, and see how we would manage passengers vis-a-vis COVID. I would hold a meeting in the next one week to see how to commission that.”
Railway services in Nigeria have been shut down since March 2020.