GE pulls out of Nigerian railway overhaul

US giant General Electric (GE) is pulling out of a major project to refurbish Nigeria’s vast, derelict narrow-gauge railway network.

It said it would be handing the concession over to consortium partners, including the South African rail and ports operator Transnet SOC Ltd., in keeping with its strategy to get out of the transportation business, reports Bloomberg.

GE, Transnet, and other consortium members SinoHydro of China and Dutch port company APM Terminals signed an "interim phase" agreement to begin improving the network in April last year.

The decision comes as investors voice concerns over GE’s growing debt levels.

The network refurbishment contracts are "now being negotiated by Transnet and its consortium partners", GE said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.

"Transnet has been a trusted partner of GE for several decades," GE said. "We have confidence in their ability and that of the other consortium members to execute on the rail concession project successfully," GE further said to Bloomberg.

Most of Nigeria’s approximately 4,000-km rail network is narrow-gauge, built by the British colonial administrations before 1930. Two main corridors run roughly northeast from the coastal cities of Lagos and Port Harcourt.

Long-term neglect after independence led to the demise of this once-active network. In 1964, rail carried 11,288,000 passengers and 2,960,000 tonnes of freight, according to official statistics, but now the derelict tracks carry next to nothing.

Image: North South Railway at Makurdi, Central Nigeria (Pastor Sam/Creative Commons/CC BY 3.0)

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