What You Weren’t Told About The New Abuja-Kaduna Rail (3)

20160903_104416Now, to what you weren’t told about the new Abuja-Kaduna Train Service, which is based on my observation this last Saturday, you will be shocked to discover that there’s the likelihood of purchasing your ticket at the Kubwa sub-station especially, and still not be able to board the train. I’ll explain later.

While we waited for the train – we were very few save for some passengers that had purchased tickets for the return trip to Idu – I noticed that anyone could walk in and out of the departure hall without as much as a stop and search. I found this a very big security risk especially in a country that was still trying to put the lid on terrorism.

This ‘lapse’, I would later observe, was limited to persons who arrive the sub-station over two hours before the arrival of the train. When the next scheduled time for arrival of the train was nearing an hour, the private security guards, assisted by a plain-cloth police officer, who earlier in the morning wore a vest that suggested he is of the Bomb Squad, subjected passengers, both male and female, including children and the elderly, to a thorough search. While they frisked through open luggage with professional dispatch, a hand-held metal detector was used to scan the body before the passenger was allowed to enter the departure hall.

It also came to my observation that most of the passengers that were now trickling in in their numbers, had come earlier in the morning but unlike me, after the first train was fully booked, they waited to purchase their tickets for the afternoon ride to Kaduna.

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Soon enough, the departure hall, which was as quiet as the grave yard, save for some children running around and playing without a care in the world, became a beehive of activities as the seats, one by one, became occupied.

The prayer rooms, which have a socket each (I was fortunate enough to plug my laptop to charge while I waited for the train) soon became a religious ground as adherents of the Islamic faith performed their ablutions in the nearby toilets and began to say prayers. At a point, there was mild argument over which direction to face to say the prayers. I digress.

SEE ALSO: What You Weren’t Told About The New Abuja-Kaduna Rail (2)

At about 1:10p.m, I could hear the horn of the train blaring in the distance, signaling its approach. As if on cue, the exit of the departure hall witnessed a surging crowd as passengers leapt from their seats to be screened by the police and private security guards prior to their boarding the train. Need I mention that this process was not only disorderly, it was a survival of the fittest.

As the train hissed to a stop, my face lit up and for a moment, I was in awe of the glitters that danced around the body of this giant metallic ‘snake’.

For the next 15 minutes or thereabout, those who were disembarking did while those going to Idu from Kubwa, boarded the train and it slithered away from view.

Immediately, I stood up from my seat and walked to the ticketing area to inquire if they had received the call to resume sale of tickets for the final return journey to Kaduna for the day. The response was in the negative. I became agitated. Confused even.

The ticketing officer, this time a male, who I had made his acquaintance earlier, informed me that from all indications, the train appeared to have been fully booked from Idu and that even if the go-ahead was given to sell tickets, all of us at the Kubwa sub-station would have to stand.

At this stage, I no longer had the strength to argue or even contemplate other options available to me. I just wanted to get out of Abuja and via the new train, even if it meant standing for the next two hours.

Other passengers too, who were just like me, soon converged in front of the ticketing area, expecting that the tickets would go on sale.

Did I mention that the total number of passengers the train can carry seated are 320 – with first class accommodating only 56 passengers. The male ticketing officer, who disclosed this information to me, however, said the number is expected to rise as about six more coaches are expected in the country before the end of the year.

The train was expected back at the Kubwa sub-station from Idu at 2p.m for the journey to Kaduna, the last for the day, but as we waited, it soon dawned on me and others that we may have spent the last four hours waiting in vain.

Nonetheless, we were hopeful of a last minute miracle. But it never came.

About thirty minutes after its scheduled arrival in Kubwa, the train again blared its horn from a distance, signaling its approach. Just like earlier, but this time worse, the crowd that surged towards the departure hall’s exit, was something else. People shoved and pushed with all their energy, you’d be forgiven if you assumed they were struggling to board a free train to America.

I stood up from my seat but I couldn’t join in this physical contest for obvious reason – I didn’t have a ticket. Besides, the exit of the departure hall was already becoming charged up with some passengers, who had spent hours waiting to see if the go ahead to sell tickets would be given to no avail, threatened to force their way through the exit glass door and into the train over what I heard some of them alleged was preferential treatment.

It turns out that some of the passengers have some influential persons working in the NRC, who they called over the phone and when it was handed to the ticketing officer, some instructions, which we were not privy to, was handed to them.

“Yes sir. I understand, no problem sir”, were some of the responses the receiver at our own end gave to whoever was at the other end of the phone. In fact, I overheard one of such passengers tell his friends in one of the major languages that they should not worry as the person he called, had instructed the ticketing officer to allow them board the train.

As soon as those who were screened were let through the exit door, it was another rat race as they rushed to get into the train.

However, it turned out the station master at the Kubwa sub-station had received a call from a superior, who he explained later, placed the call from Lagos, directing that no passenger should be allowed to board the train and stand.

The station master claimed the superior official threatened to issue him a query if it was discovered that passengers were allowed to stand in the train.

Despite flouting the directive, it appeared the train driver was not going to allow the station master have his way as only about one-fifth of the passengers that were screened to take the ride to Kaduna, actually got on the train. The rest were turned back.

As the disappointed passengers counted their losses and vented their anger on the officials at the Kubwa sub-station, one man’s lamentations stood out from the cacophony of voices that rented the air; his wife was about to put to bed at the hospital in Kaduna and his presence was urgently needed to sort out some issues.

According to this man, who looked visibly disappointed and at a loss, he bought his ticket since around 9:40a.m on that day and was sure of getting on the afternoon train, but fate had other plans in store for him.

As I left the Kubwa Train sub-station at about 3p.m, dejected, angry and above all, exhausted, I wondered how long we would continue to make a mockery of ourselves over simple things that of our own doing, we’ve turned to be complicated.

If we cannot get it right putting in place a simple yet effective ticketing/booking system for a train service that has only four coaches and conveys less than 400 passengers per trip at the moment, is it when the six additional coaches arrive and the volume of passengers increase that we are going to start running pillar to post, trying to figure out an acceptable system that works?

One who is not wise with a penny, certainly, will not be wise with a pound and I fear, due to the ineptitude and lack of vision of those at the helm of the Abuja-Kaduna Train service, one day, we may wake up to hear that some aggrieved passengers have gone on rampage, destroying facilities at the train station.

The worst aspect of this whole episode was the clear absence of a crisis management strategy. There was no communication with the passengers explaining or apologizing for the delay in the arrival of the train; no communication informing them that tickets were no longer going to be sold or that some of them who had already purchased tickets, would not be allowed to board as the train was already filled to capacity. Meanwhile, there was a functioning P.A.S at the Kubwa sub-station.

While it may be argued that these are teething problems, I would expect such argument to hold when the challenges are of a technical nature, not one as mundane or as uncomplicated as booking/selling of tickets.

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