Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday officially opened the country’s first light rail system, which it is hoped will boost economic growth by relieving traffic-clogged roads.
Buhari said the Abuja Rail Mass Transit System was a “dream come true” before taking a train 27.3 kilometres (17 miles) from the Central Business District to the international airport.
“Transport is the livewire of any city,” he said at a ceremony.
“I am very optimistic that a modern rail service would bring about a boost to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) economy and greatly enhance social life.”
The first two lines linking 12 stations between Abuja city centre and the airport cost $823.5 million.
Sixty percent of the funding has come from the Exim Bank of China.
It was built by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), which is also building a new airport terminal, while Chinese money is funding rolling stock.
Three coaches will be used for initial operations pending the arrival of 48 more at a cost of $194 million. Exim Bank of China is providing $157 million of the cost as a soft loan.
Buhari said the project was evidence of closer ties between the two countries, which recently signed a $2.4 billion currency swap to boost trade and cut reliance on the dollar.
A 186-kilometre rail link between Abuja and Kaduna was also built with Chinese expertise and funding.
FCT minister Muhammad Bello said the aim of the light rail project to move “large numbers of commuters and goods” to and from outlying towns.
It will eventually be part of a wider national rail network.
Work on tracks, signalling, stations and other infrastructure was completed in December last year and since then has undergone tests.
Trains will travel at a top speed of 100 kilometres (62 miles) per hour, he added.
Kaduna state governor Nasir El-Rufai was FCT minister when the project was started in 2007 with an expectation it would take three years to complete.
He blamed the last government for stalling the project but said he was pleased to see it finally come to fruition. “Better late than never, it is completed today, the first phase,” he added.
Work is now under way on phase two of the project, which is estimated to cost $1.3 billion.
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