Portuguese construction company Mota-Engil has started working on the $1.8bn railway track that will link Nigeria and Niger in West Africa.

The ground-breaking ceremony was held at the site of a proposed station in Katsina’s Makira, reported Bloomberg.

In January, Nigerian Transport Minister Rotimi Amaechi concluded the contract with Mota-Engil for the construction of the 283km line connecting the northern Nigerian city of Kano with Maradi, Niger.

The rail line will also cover other cities such as Danbatta, Kazaure, Daura, Mashi, Katsina and Jibiya in Nigeria.

This rail project is expected to boost commerce in the region and aid in establishing Nigeria as the export hub.

This also happens to be the first rail project in the region that is not being executed by Chinese construction firms and banks and will depend on European financing.

According to the company, Credit Suisse Group, Africa Finance and German state bank KfW will finalise loans from commercial banks, export credit agencies and multilateral institutions.

In a text to Bloomberg, Mota-Engil Africa and Europe CEO Manuel Antonio Mota said that the project ‘is a strategic investment for the present and for the future’ that will ‘open the northern part of the country’ by allowing businesses to transport their goods directly to the coast via rail.

The new route will have the capacity to carry more than three million passengers and one million tonnes of freight in a year.

After the finalisation of financing, the construction will be completed in 36 months.