Ethiopia’s ambitious railway network opens to freight

Ethiopia’s ambitious railway network opens to freight

Ethiopia and Djibouti have launched the first fully electrified cross-border railway line in Africa

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On October 5th, 2016 Hailemariam Desalegn the Ethiopian Prime Minister attended the opening ceremony of Africa’s first entirely electrified railway line that crosses a border between two countries.

The Republic of Djibouti borders Ethiopia to both the south and west, and its capital Djibouti City is the primary port for almost all of Ethiopia’s exports and imports, almost 90% in fact. This is in part due to the fact that Ethiopia is landlocked but also because Djibouti is located near to some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, in both the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

5,000km rail network is planned for completion in 2020

The Ethiopia – Djibouti section of the railway, costing $US4 billion and measuring 466 miles is just the first stage of a much larger network planned by Ethiopia, in fact by 2020 they plan to have an electric railway connecting them to both Sudan and South Sudan, as well as Kenya.

The trains will travel at 75mph allowing the journey between Ethiopia and Djibouti to be completed in 10 to 12 hours, significantly faster than the 3 days it currently takes by road.

Ethiopia’s plans are very ambitious, in fact their ultimate aspiration is to have a pollution free electric railway network that will stretch across Africa, connecting Djibouti’s port to the Atlantic Ocean. This will help Ethiopia to significantly grow their economy and in turn become a manufacturing center for the whole of Africa.

Freight services prioritized

The railway line will initially only be used for freight, transforming business by dramatically reducing both the cost and the time it currently takes to move freight by road. This will result in a huge boost to businesses and in turn the Ethiopian economy as a whole in the future.

Getachew Betru, the chief executive of Ethiopia Railways said, “In Ethiopia currently if you want to bring your container from Hong Kong to Djibouti it will take you maybe two, three weeks. But it will take you more than that to take it from Djibouti to Addis Ababa. It will now take us one day or more,”

Daily passenger services are planned to run in both directions on the new line in the near future, possibly as early as January 2017, however the full details including ticket prices are yet to be finalized.

Financed and built by Chinese firms

The railway was built by China Civil Engineering Construction and China Railway Group, and China’s Exim Bank financed 70% of the project. The deal between Ethiopia and China also includes an agreement that Chinese technicians, controllers and station masters will staff and manage the trains for the first five years. During this time Ethiopians will be trained so that they can then be employed to take over once the Chinese leave.

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