Lagos Light Rail

Lagos Light Rail Delayed by Cash Shortage

Two corridor project would attempt to restore traffic sanity to Nigeria’s largest city.

Lagos is a huge metropolis — projections put its population at somewhere between 10 and 20 million people — but it lacks an urban rail network. Rather, its citizens mostly rely on small private buses called Danfo or Molue to move about its heavily congested streets and highways. Last year, the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority opened the city’s first bus rapid transit line, which runs 22 km along mostly separated lanes. The project was constructed for $1.7 million per mile, carries approximately 200,000 passengers a day, and saves riders 25 minutes a trip compared to other travel options. But the large city needs other travel modes, and it has been developing a light rail plan, with completion due for 2012. Groundbreaking for the system, however, has yet to commence, putting its future in doubt.

The light rail network — vastly under-scaled for a city with the size and density of Lagos — would consist of two corridors. The Red Line would connect the Marina with the airport along a 37 km line with 13 stations; the route would carry 1.3 million daily riders if estimates are to be believed. A Blue Line would run east-west along 27 km and connect to the Red Line downtown at Iddo; it could eventually carry more than 500,000 daily riders.

Like the BRT system, which was constructed to considerably lower standards than would be acceptable in a more developed country, this light rail project won’t serve as a case study for modernity. To cheapen costs, the 4 to 10-car trains won’t be electrified and stations will be minimal. Though Lagos may deserve a full-scale heavy rail metro, it will be getting something more akin to the New Jersey River Line, just operating at much higher frequencies with much higher-capacity vehicles. Though Nigeria is oil-wealthy, its national government lacks the power to successfully finance major projects of the type Algiers is undertaking, for instance, though that northern African city has support from the French government, something Nigeria lacks.

Even this reduced-cost system is in trouble, though: the Lagos State Government and the Transport Authority have been unable to put together financing for the light rail lines. Major public transportation projects aren’t easy in an environment that’s unstable both economically and politically.

Nevertheless, Lagos has high expectations for its line. As Rem Koolhaas’ fascinating film Lagos Wide & Close describes, the city is choked in traffic and its economy has been severely limited by the lack of infrastructure investment since the construction of major highways in the 1970s. Like American and European cities, this African metropolis sees a major downpayment in public transportation as a potential catalyst for future development. Whether Nigeria will be successful in improving its deprived economy as a whole, however, has yet to be seen.