Djibouti-Ethiopia railway opens for business

Africa’s first electrified standard gauge railway built to Chinese standards 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.

Image: Last stop on the line: the Djibouti container termal (Creative Commons)

  • Updated 12 January to correct a statement saying this railway is Africa’s first electrified standard gauge railway. Thanks for your comments.

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  1. South Africa has had electrified standard gauge railways since mid 20th century at least. Is South Africa not Africa because it is different? Or was different?

  2. So Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia don’t count as being in Africa ?

  3. South Africa and neighbouring countries adopted 3’6″ gauge rather than 4’8 1/2″ as their standard to save costs and allow tighter curves.

  4. This rail track, if it were to stretch to The two Congos and Cameron,it will allow bulk shipments of numerous commodities to bypass the treacherous trip around Cape of Good Hope by ship and save valuable time

  5. The Gautrain which is a commuter railway service in South Africa’s Gauteng area is the only standard gauge network. The rest of the extensive rail network in South Africa and in most of Southern Africa is the Cape Gauge which is a narrow gauge.

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