Start of Lagos metro offers dramatically reduced journey times

LAGOS (Reuters) - A long-awaited Lagos light rail service began operations on Monday as Africa's most populous city looks to ease its chronic travel congestion.

Four decades after the metro system was first mooted, its 13 km first phase - dubbed the Blue Line and built by China Civil Engineering Construction Corp - links the mainland part of the city where most people live with the more affluent Lagos Island, where many businesses are headquartered.

The metro system has been dogged by funding and administrative delays since it was initially planned in 1983. Lagos officials held a formal opening ceremony for the service in December but it has not actually carried passengers until now.

Marking the opening of the electric-powered service, one of its blue-coloured trains on Monday carried its first passengers, including state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who said adequate security had been provided to prevent vandalism of the rail infrastructure.

Lagos's more than 20 million residents experience regular traffic gridlock, forcing frustrated motorists and commuters to spend hours in traffic, but the new service is expected to dramatically slash travelling times.

A journey that once took more than two hours will now take just 15 minutes, Lagos state officials have said.

Construction of the second phase of the rail project is expected to begin later this year and on completion the metro is expected to carry some 500,000 passengers daily, officials say.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by David Holmes)