Critics who carpeted the Katsina-Maradi rail as a wrong-headed project argued that it would drain the nation of scarce resources that could have been ploughed to more productive use. But ADEYINKA ADERIBIGBE and FAITH YAHAYA, who witnessed the ground-breaking event last Tuesday, report that contrary to their claims, the project when completed, will reposition the economy.Katsina State last week witnessed an unusual throng of people that could be mistaken for a mega rally by the ruling party.The venue of the event was filled with people of various status and age. Ministers, governors, leaders of the national and state assemblies, traditional rulers, delegates from a neighbouring country, Niger Republic, converged on the state.The atmosphere was convivial. The people defied some of the COVID-19 protocols to witness the event. Contrary to what many people thought, it was not a political gathering; rather, it was a ceremony to commence an infrastructural development, which the state Governor, Aminu Masari, described as long awaited.According to him, there had been a rumour that a rail line would pass through Katsina, but it remained a so as it never came to a reality despite having influential people from the state who could make it happen.Several years after, however, the rumour has become reality with the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kano-Katsina-Jibya-Maradi with a branch line in the Dutse-Jigawa railway project. With the take off of this project, it will not be out of place to say the administration is in line with its consistent talks and intention of linking each state of the country through rail. It was the turn of Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states and, of course, the neighbouring country, the Niger Republic last week.Nigeria has been used to contracting its infrastructural projects to a Chinese construction firm and other multinational construction companies with presence in the country, but this time around, the project would not be handled by any of the familiar firms.Rather, it would be handled by a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil Group, a multinational engineering and construction firm for $1.959billion. In addition to the project, the firm also hinted that it would construct a multidisciplinary institution for the country as part of its corporate social responsibility.Highlighting the economic importance of the project when completed, President Muhammadu Buhari, who joined the ceremony online, said the project would serve 80million Nigerians and boost trade volume between Nigeria and other adjoining countries.The president said: This vital infrastructure line will establish an end-to-end logistic supply chain in railway transport services between Northern and Southern regions of the country, reaching Nigerian southern ports of Lagos and Warri. The entire route encompasses territory inhabited by close to 80 million people across 10 states of the country. This project has a branch line to Dutse, the capital of Jigawa State to open up this corridor which is endowed with vast resources.The Kano-Maradi rail line has been identified as a viable line that will significantly enhance the movement of passengers and freight to the hinterland, especially raw materials from both agricultural and mineral resources for our industries. The project, when completed, would serve the import and export of goods for Niger Republic and other countries in the sub-region through Nigerian ports. The country would earn revenue through expansion of trade and commerce, while the people of Niger Republic will benefit from the ease of transportation logistics at affordable cost in their import and export business. The connection to Niger Republic, through rail, will also foster Trans-Sahara trade and contribute to the expected gains in the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement.Buhari also expressed optimism that when transportation infrastructure are realised, the country would overcome the infrastructural deficiency in the transport sector as businesses will be able to take full advantage of the availability of an affordable and effective transportation.Giving an insight into how the project came about and debunking the notion that the project was approved because the president was from Katsina State, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, said the preliminary studies for the Kano-Maradi railway route commenced in 2012 before the All Progressives Congress (APC) took over power.He also said the route has the capacity to process over 9000 passengers, when completed.According to him: Studies started in 2012 and by 2015, the Ministry had concluded the Feasibility studies of this route from Kano to Maradi and produced an Outline Business Case that attested to the high viability of this corridor for railway transportation and was, therefore, listed among other prioritised railway and railway-related projects.The scope of this project has its corridor within Kano, Katsina, Jigawa states and a 25-Km extension into the Niger Republic involves the construction of a single track standard gauge rail line with an alignment of approximately 284Km traversing Kano-Dambatta-Kazaure-Shargelle-Mashi-Daura-Katsina-Jibiya-Maradi and a 94-Km branch line from Kano to Dutse, the capital of Jigawa State.The entire network of this project has 15 railway stations of different categories with major stations of approximately 3,000 peak passenger capacity in cities of Kano and Katsina and stations of standard category in Kazaure, Daura, Jibiya and Dutse and minor stations in Dambatta, Shargelle and Mashi as well as halt stations in Kunya, Kano airport, Muduru, Dadara and in the Niger Republic at Annol Mata and Maradi.He added that the rail line is also provided with accessories and special installations including power and water supply schemes, signalling system and communication in GSM-railway, freight yards, rolling stock depots and maintenance workshops.On the traffic the corridor is envisaged to witness, Amaechi said: This project will reach a substantial completion in 2023 when it will be ready to handle passenger and freight daily traffic forecast of 9,364 passengers and approximately 3,000 metric tons of freight on return trips between Kano and Maradi. There is no doubt that this route when linked with the ongoing Lagos-Kano railway project on completion, will generate higher traffic volumes and revenue.Administrative Officer of Mota Engil Africa, Emmanuel Mota said the firms presence in about 40 countries and its 75 years of existence indicates its integrity and passion to deliver quality service. He said: The project is an opportunity to unlock the trade between the north and south, the region and even the hinterland countries. It is a project that is going to bring economic development and prosperity to the region.We have been developing projects across the continent for the past 75 years, we are currently present in more than 40 countries and this will be our landmark project in the country and in the continent. Many times, they like to consider us a Portuguese company but since the establishment of the group, my grandfather and father have taught me that in Portugal, we are Portuguese and we are nationals of the countries we work in. So, in Nigeria, we are Nigerians, in Niger, we are Nigeriens as well as in Mexico, we will be Mexicans. So, as we are in Nigeria, we are Nigerians for many years to come.We thank the president and the minister of transportation for giving us this opportunity, we thank other ministries involved in this project and we can guarantee that we will conclude this project on time and on budget with great success for both countries involved.The governor of Katsina State, Aminu Masari said the commencement of the project was long-awaited and a dream come true. He said the hopes of having a railway in the state was dashed on two occasions in the past, adding that the state was sceptical when the news of a railway passing through the state was heard. He, however, appreciated that president and the minister for making their dreams finally come to pass. His words: Our thanks and appreciation goes to our dear president, Muhammadu Buhari who by the grace of Allah is completing this internationally known economic corridor of Lagos, Kano, Jibya and going to Maradi in the Niger Republic. The story of the railway coming to Katsina has been very old. I could remember there was a time the Late Alhaji Abdulkadir was the chairman of Nigerian Railways, there were rumours about railways coming to katsina and later my boss, Alhaji Saidu Barda, the first civilian governor, when he was federal permanent secretary in the ministry of transport, the issue was again raised. So, when the issue was raised this time, people were a bit sceptical because of the previous stories and hopes that the railway will eventually come to Katsina. We thank Allah that today, it has come to pass and the honour and glory goes to President Muhammadu Buhari who approved this project and also the minister of transportation for facilitating this landmark, historical project.I think those of us in the appointive office today especially those of us from Katsina, for us this day, we are more than happy because history is being made during our time and I hope and appeal to the Ministry of transport and contractor to fulfil the statement made by the Minister of Transportation that if not all, a substantial part of this project will be completed before the end of the tenure of 2023. It is hoped that this administration would match words with action and link most states of the country via rail before its tenure expires. Click here to read full news..