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Nigeria on Monday signed a deal worth almost a billion dollars with a state-owned Chinese engineering firm to resuscitate part of its dilapidated railway system, the transport minister said.

The 875-million-dollar (588-million-euro) contract was signed by Transport Minister Ibrahim Isa Bio and the managing director of the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), Zhou Tianxiang, in Abuja.

The deal constitutes the first phase of the country’s railway modernisation plans.

As part of it, a railway track will be rebuilt between the administrative capital Abuja and the northern city of Kaduna — a distance of roughly 200 kilometres (125 miles) — over the next three years.

The Chinese government has granted Nigeria a concessionary loan of 500 million dollars for the project.

There are also plans to reconstruct a 1,315-kilometre track between Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub in the southwest and the northern city of Kano.

Once the pride of the nation, Nigeria’s railways have, like much of the rest of the country’s infrastructure, crumbled over the years.

Nigeria has a network of thousands of kilometres (miles) of narrow-gauge single track lines, covering nine of the country’s 36 states. Most of its locomotives broke down long ago.

The only passenger service still operating in the country takes two hours to link central Lagos with Ijoko, a small commuter town less than 30 kilometres (20 miles) away.