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By Chijioke Ohuocha
ABUJA, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Nigeria is in talks with Transnet for the concession to run its railways after General Electric , which has spun off its transport business, handed the leadership of the consortium to the South African firm, the transport minister said on Sunday.
"We are in talks with Transnet. When we conclude we will sign the concession agreement and they will rehabilitate the entire 3,500 kilometers of railways," Transport Minister Rotimi Amaechi told a government delegation in Abuja.
Transnet was not immediately available for comment.
A procurement process adviser told Reuters last week that General Electric (GE) had pulled out of the $2 billion concession deal with the Nigerian government for two rail lines connecting northern cities to others in the south.
GE on Thursday said it had handed over the leadership of a consortium chosen to run the Nigerian rail concession to Transnet.
The concession aims to cover about 3,500 km (2,200 miles) of existing narrow-gauge lines from the southwestern commercial capital Lagos to Kano in the north and from southeastern oil hub Port Harcourt to Maiduguri in the northeast.
Economic growth in Nigeria has been hampered for decades by its dilapidated rail network, built mainly by British colonial rulers before independence in 1960.
Nigeria, which has one of Africa's biggest economies and is the continent's top oil producer, is seeing slow growth after emerging last year from its first recession in a quarter of a century which was largely brought on by low crude prices from late 2014. (Reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)