Still On Nigeria's Railway History – "Narrow Gauge In Nigeria"

3 Comments » October 17th, 2008 posted by // Categories: General Articles

“The Railway Magazine”, July 1964 pp. 578 – 581.


I am re-producing these articles with some nostalgia, (I was not born in those colonial days, anyway) but that I count myself lucky at least to have been born at a time when there were still vestiges of these glorious past around, before Nigeria imploded, so to speak, taken over by the inept and corrupt military and political classes bent on destroying everything in sight, and which so far, they have succeeded in doing. It was as if Nigerians went to bed one night with big hopes of progress and the future and we woke up the following morning, with all shattered shards of dreams all over our bed. It continues to be a nightmare for us, in every aspect of our daily lives.


I am not a historian, but for a long time, I have been delving into our past; collecting articles, magazines, artefacts and books. Once, shortly after our independence from Great Britain, the whole world believed, and were never in doubt that, Nigeria was going to be a great, if not the greatest African nation in the world. I have many written materials that supported this claim, and even a lot of Nigerians were actively trying their best to develop the country. Where, when and how it all went pear-shaped, I simply could not fathom.


Well, here is the article, reproduced in full:




“Railways of less than the main-line 3 ft. 6 in. gauge, and their locomotives”.


The Nigerian Railway was constituted by the amalgamation of the Lagos Government and the Baro-Kano Railway on October 2, 1912, but the history of the railways in Nigeria started when Sir William MacGregor declared open a 3 ft. 6 in. gauge line from Lagos to Ibadan on March 4, 1901. The actual construction began in 1898 after the Lagos Government had approved of a railway of nearly sixty miles in length from Lagos to Abeokuta.


Railways existed before roads, other than roads within the townships, and when Zungeru was chosen for the administrative headquarters of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, the highest point of navigation on the Kaduna River was Wushishi. A start was made to construct a tramway in May 1901, for a distance of 12 miles to connect the two places, and this was finished in December of the same year. It was then decided that the river facilities downstream at Bari-Juko were better, so a further ten miles were added in 1902. The total cost was £31,500. The line carried the building material and stores for the new headquarters for a total of nine years. It is assumed that the tramway followed the course of the west bank of the Kaduna River.


The Baro-Kano Railway was completed in 1910 and linked to the Lagos Railway at Minna: as this line passed through Zungeru, a better route was provided. The Wushishi Tramway being no longer required, the track was lifted and sent to Zaria and used again on the construction of the Bauchi Light Railway, between Zaria and Bukuru. The two locomotives and the rolling stock were also sent to Zaria. No precise dates of closure are known, but the opening dates of the Baro-Kano and Lagos Government railway sections in the area give some indication when the tramway ceased working. Of the former, the Baro-Minna section was opened on April 1, 1910, and Minna to Zaria on April 1, 1911, while the Jebba-Minna portion of the Lagos Government Railway was officially opened on January 1, 1912.


The first section of the Bauchi Light Railway, between Zaria and Rahama, was opened on April 1, 1912, and the two ushishi Tramway locomotives were included in the stock of the Bauchi Light Railway in the return to the Government dated December 31, 1911. Engine No. 1 was a 0-6-0 tank built by the Hunslet Engine Company in 1901 and carried works number 762, It was renumbered No. 55 on the Bauchi Light Railway, but became No. 1 again in 1916. It was written off in july, 1924, and is now preserved under canopy at Mina Station. The cylinders were 7 ½ in. X 12 in. and the wheels 2 ft. 0 in. in diameter. Engine No. 2 was a 0-6-2 tank also built by Hunslet in 1902, bearing its number 787. It became No. 56 on the Bauchi Light Railway, was renumbered No. 2 again in 1916, and written off in July 1924. The cylinders were outside, 9 in. X 12 in.; the coupled wheels were 2 ft. 0 in. and the trailing wheels 1 ft. 6 in.


The Bauchi Light Railway was authorised on January 21, 1911, and construction commenced almost immediately. The first section from Zaria to Rahama (86 miles) was opened on April 1, 1912. Further sections opened were Rahama to Jengre (15 miles) on July 7, 1913, Jengre to Jos (32 miles) on July 6, 1914, and finally Jos to Bukuru (10 miles) on December 10, 1914. Jos and Bukuru are 4000 ft. and 4,500 ft. above sea level, and are in an important tin mining area. The railway was the only means of communication at that time. The section between Jos and Bukuru was converted to 3 ft. 6 in gauge during 1926-27, when the branch line from Kafanchan to Jos, on the Nigerian Eastern Railway Extension, was constructed. The last passenger train from Jos to Zaria ran on September 30, 1957, thus ending a 35-year service. The discovery of coal at Enugu and the opening of the Jos-Kafanchan-Makurdi-Enugu-Port Harcourt line really precipitated the decline of the Bauchi Light Railway as a paying concern.



Apart from the two Wushishi Tramway locomotives which were used in the construction of the line, there were two classes of locomotives in use. Nos. 3 to 5, built by Hunslet Engine Company in 1921, makers numbers 1413-1415, were 0-6-0 tanks with outside cylinders 10 ¼ in. X 15 in. and 2 ft. 4 in. wheels. They were finally written off, No. 3 in April, 1952, and Nos. 4 and 5 in October, 1960. No. 5 was brought to Ebute Metta, Lagos, sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s to work the Lagos Sanitary Tramway, but when it was found that considerable alterations would have to be made to reduce the axle load, it was not used and was subsequently returned to Zaria.


The “Bukuru” class were 0-6-2 tender engines, all built by Kitson & Co. Ltd., of Leeds. They had outside cylinders 14 in. X 21 in. and 3 ft. 0 in. coupled wheels. The trailing wheels were 2 ft 0 in. The wheels were placed between the frames which were 3 ft. 10 ½ in. apart, with the balance weights outside the frame. The engines were as follows:





Works No


Written off






















Not named










Not named











“The Kokomaiko”, a coined word which illustrates phonetically the possible sound made by the locomotives.


The Lagos Steam Tramway had five 0-4-4 tank engines, Nos. 101 to 105, all built by the Hunslet Engine Co. Ltd. Leeds. Nos. 101 to 103 were built in 1910, works numbers 751-753, and Nos. 104 and 105 were built in 1910, works numbers 1016 and 1017. They had outside cylinders 6 ¼ in. X 8 in. and 1 ft. 6 ½ in. diameter wheels.


The Lagos Sanitary Tramway was built in 1906 to make possible the more efficient disposal of the sewage. The line ran from Dejection Jetty, south of the Five Cowrie Creek Bridge, northwards over this bridge and along Marina to a junction with the Lagos Steam Tramway, at Ereko Street Market.


Kokomaiko was put into service but, because of its weight, was not allowed to work over the Carter Bridge and Five Cowrie Creek Bridge. The loaded trucks were therefore pushed over the Five Cowrie Creek Bridge to Dejection Jetty by prison labour, which at the time was employed in the disposal of night soil.


New Sanitary.



“The Lagos Steam Tramway”.)



Akintokunbo A Adejumo: I really do hope you have found this article interesting and educative. I just have to share this piece of our history with all Nigerians. Again, it says a lot of how fallen the country is today. It says a lot about how we have had clueless, visionless and corrupt leaders, who cannot manage their homes, and we ask them to manage a whole country, or rather, they insisted and forced their way into managing a country either by using a gun or by rigging elections. It is impossible to achieve. It cannot be done.


I am an ardent believer in the railway system or transportation as the backbone of any country’s development and economic survival. The railroads were used the Americas and Canada to push into the hinterlands and conquer and gain lands; the Europeans connected all their cities with the railroad, and in Pakistan and India today, we know what the railway has achieved for them. Nigeria was lucky to have started early in this line, even though initiated for the convenience of our colonial administrators, (Did they uproot the lines and carted everything back to Britain in bitterness of losing Nigeria when they left?) but then the mere thought of what has happened to our railway system, nay, the whole transportation systems, is beyond belief.


lives and works in London, UK. A graduate of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria (1979) and University of Manitoba, Canada (1985), he also writes on topical issues for newspapers and internet media including, Nigeria Today Online, Nigerians In America, Nigeria Village Square, Champions Newspaper,, African News Switzerland, New Nigerian Politics,,,  etc. an organisation devoted to celebrating genuine progress, excellence, commitment, selfless and unalloyed service to Nigeria and Nigerians.

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3 Responses to “Still On Nigeria's Railway History – "Narrow Gauge In Nigeria"”

  1. Allan Ralston says:

    Wonderful article, but it makes me weep how Nigeria lost a fully functioning railway system. Interestingly, you can follow the trace of the BLR for much of the way out of Zaria on Google Earth, starting at the mainline station it follows the path of a road before crossing over the river Galma on a bridge since used to support a water main. I remember finding a section of track here as late as 1978 at a side road. Happy days indeed, one day I will go back.

  2. Akintokunbo Adejumo says:

    Thanks for your comment. I will endeavour to try and trace the vestiges of this railway, when next I visit Nigeria.

  3. Allan Smith says:

    Do you know about the English firm that built railways in the 1920’s ?

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