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Lagos gets another public transport upgrade as Red Line opens

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu cut the ribbon on the new Red Line metro rail project in Lagos today, marking a much-needed boost for the megacity’s commuters.

The Red Line will open in stages, the first of which will run for around 25km. Trains will depart from Oyingbo, near the central business district, and run northwards to Agbado, connecting eight stations in total.

The Red Line complements the Blue Line, which opened last September, and currently offers services from Marina to Mile 2 in the west of the city. An extension of the Blue Line to serve another six stations is due for completion in 2027. Both lines were built by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation.

“Today is a day to remember”, said President Tinubu at the commissioning ceremony. Noting that he had approved a masterplan for public transport in Lagos while governor of the state more than 20 years ago, Tinubu said that the Red Line would help to “transform Lagos into the economic powerhouse of Africa and a respected megacity on the global stage”.

The president praised LAMATA, the city’s public transport authority, for delivering the Red and Blue lines, along with a Bus Rapid Transit system, improved ferry services and upgraded roads. But, with a “bulging population”, Tinubu added that the city must strive to complete further infrastructure improvements.

“Nigeria must and will be able to enjoy access to multiple alternative modes of transport, all of which are safe, efficient and affordable,” he said. “We cannot afford to rest on our laurels. There is much work to be done.”

Full steam ahead?

Improving public transport is a key priority for Lagos, Africa’s largest city, where traffic gridlock has long been a feature of everyday life. A report last year published by the Danne Institute for Research, estimated that the average Lagosian spends 2.21 hours commuting each day, with congestion costing the city 4tr naira ($2.4bn at current exchange rates) each year.

The Red Line will alleviate some of the pressure. The journey between Oyingbo and Agbado will take around 40 minutes; the same journey by car can often take more than two hours. Lagos governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu claimed in December that the line will carry 500,000 commuters each day.

But even if this ambitious figure proves accurate, the line will provide only a fraction of the capacity required. The population of Lagos and its surrounding areas has already ballooned to more than 22 million according to the state government. Around 2,000 new residents arrive in the city every day.

The prospects of completing the Red Line according to the originally envisioned masterplan remain uncertain. Sanwo-Olu said at the commissioning ceremony that he had signed a contract with CCECC to extend the Red Line to create an interconnection with the Blue Line. It is unclear, however, whether the original plan to build a spur to connect Murtala Mohammed International Airport will be realised.

And there are questions about whether metro rail is the best way to solve public transport dilemmas in Africa’s cities. Rail projects are notoriously prone to delays and inevitably come with a huge price tag.

Indeed, the Blue and Red Lines in Lagos have taken more than 20 years to pass through the planning and construction phases. The lengthy delay in turning even the first phases of vision proposed by Tinubu in the early 2000s into reality is partly due to the difficulty of securing financing.

The bill for the Red and Blue lines has never been confirmed, although estimates suggest the two projects have cost at least $1bn.

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