Chinese-built railway begins commercial operation in Nigeria
Line will play critical role in transporting iron ore from central Itakpe to Warri port
7 Oct 2020 | Michael Marray

Commercial operation has begun on the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri railway in Nigeria. The 326-kilometre, single-track project, built by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), runs from the southern oil hub of Warri near the Atlantic coast northwards into the major iron ore producing region in Kogi state.

A commissioning ceremony was held on September 29 in Agbor, a town in Delta state. Speaking at the ceremony via live stream, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari cites projections showing that the operation of the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri line will generate close to a million passengers and 3.5 million tonnes of freight annually.

The line will play a critical role in transporting iron ore from the central Itakpe to Warri port, and promote the development in the agricultural and mining sectors along the route. Nigeria is the most populous African country, with 208 million inhabitants. Nigerian Railway Corporation has plans to eventually operate three vertical and five horizontal lines criss-crossing the country and linking up with its major ports. 

Another line, from capital city Lagos on the Atlantic coast running northwards to the city of Kano, is being built in segments. Much of it runs parallel to an old British-built rail line which had fallen into disrepair.

There are already long-distance north-south services in operation from Lagos to Kano and Port Harcourt to Kano, but the network needs to be built up for more efficient freight and passenger services. 

CCECC, a subsidiary of China Railway Construction Corporation, is heavily involved in Nigeria's rail network plans. In May 2018, the government signed a US$6.68 billion contract with CCECC for work on various segments of the old Lagos-Kano line. And in October 2019, CCECC signed another US$3.9 billion contract. The Export-Import Bank of China has been providing debt finance.

The Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri project had been delayed for many years, with initial plans dating back to the 1980s. CCECC began work on the project in 2017, restoring existing tracks as well as building ten stations and a railway ancillary facility yard. Itakpe is an important iron ore producing region, and is the headquarters of the National Iron Ore Mining Company.