Africa’s first electrified standard gauge railway entered service yesterday between the suburbs of Addis Ababa and its coastal neighbour, Djibouti. The line will cut the time taken to travel the 750km between Ethiopia and the sea from three days to 12 hours.
The dignitaries present at the inauguration ceremony in Djibouti included Ethiopia’s prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Djibouti president Ismail Omar Guelleh.
Aboubaker Omar Hadi, chairman of the Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority, said the railway marked a “new dawn for Africa’s integration into the global economy”.
“From today, millions more Africans are now linked to Djibouti's world-class port facilities,” he said. “Connecting Africa, Asia and Europe, Djibouti is at the heart of the world's trade routes, and we are proud to play a vital role in developing the region and wider continent.”
The $4bn project was built by China Railway Group and the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation and financed by a consortium of Chinese banks, including the Export Import Bank, the China Development Bank and the Industrial and Commercial Bank.
China has provided about $12bn in loans to Ethiopia since 2000, and it has become Ethiopia’s main trading partner for exports and imports. The railway will reduce the cost of doing business and remove a bottleneck to the flow of goods, which at present are heavily weighted in China’s favour.
The line will operate with a maximum speed of 120km/h for cargo trains and 160km/h for passengers. It replaces a line completed by France in 1917 which became disused in the 2000s.
In the future the line may be extended a further 1,300km to Sudan and South Sudan. Other long-term developments under consideration include a link to Kenya’s standard gauge railway and a trans-African line to Cameroon.