The first railway in Nigeria was opened in 1898 between Lagos and Abeokuta, a distance of 96km. In common with the railways of other British colonies in Africa, the chosen gauge was 3ft 6in (1067mm), and this gauge was used for subsequent expansion.
The present day network extends to some 3500km of route and reaches many parts of the country, although given the huge land area coverage is sparse. In the early part of the 21st century lines were very run down and underutilized. Rehabilitation of existing lines and construction of new ones has since taken place, and is ongoing.
In 1991 new standard (1435mm) gauge line opened to connect iron ore workings in the Itakpe area with steel works at Ajaokuta. The line was extended to Warri in 2013, a total distance of 327km. Passenger traffic on the line commenced in 2019.
In 2014, a new 186km standard gauge line from Abuja to Kaduna was completed. Freight services commenced the following year, passenger services from May, 2016.
In 2015, a contract was signed for the construction of a 334km commuter rail network in Ogun state, north of Lagos. The first line would run from Abeokuta to Ijebu Ode.
In 2017, plans were announced for a new 275km line linking the steel works at Ajaokuta with the Agbaja Iron Ore Project in Kogi State.
In 2019, a contract was signed for a new 200km standard gauge railway from Abuja linking with the existing line to Warri at Itakpe. The project also includes a 50km branch to Lokoja and and extension from the existing terminus at Warri to the port.
In 2020, contracts were let for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the 1067mm gauge Port Harcourt – Maiduguri line. The work will include several new branches and an interchange with the standard gauge network at Kafanchan.
In 2021, a new 181km standard gauge line from Lagos to Ibadan opened for service. Construction began a 305km standard gauge line from Kaduna to Kano. Funding was agreed for the proposed 1400km standard gauge line from Lagos to Calabar.
In 2023, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the governments of Nigeria and Niger for the construction of a new standard gauge line from Kano to Maradi in Niger, a distance of 248km.
Light rail transit systems opened in Abuja in 2018, and in Lagos in 2022. Construction of a system in Abidjan commenced in 2023. Other similar systems are proposed. A monorail opened in 2022 in Calabar.
© 2006-2023 Glyn Williams
Photo image from the website of The Abuja Times