Ethiopia has launched the country’s first electric railway system, a 750 km (466 miles) rail line that connects the capital Addis Ababa with a Red Sea port in neighbouring Djibouti. With a price tag of $3.4 billion, the new railway is the country’s biggest infrastructural project in recent years, only dwarfed by the $6.4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project. The BBC reports that the new electric railway was built with 70 percent funding from China’s Exim Bank and constructed by the China Railway Group and the China Civil Engineering Corporation.
Speaking at Wednesday’s official launch, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the new railway line, “Will provide huge benefits to the industrial parks and modern farms that will be built in the future.” He added that the new train line would create opportunities for growth in the Ethiopian economy.
With a population of 94 million people, Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous country. But with no sea port of its own, the country is landlocked and 90 percent of its export and imports have to go through the closest sea port in neighbouring Djibouti. For years, a three-day journey by road was the only way for many importers to reach the port with their cargo.
The new electric rail line promises to change all that. Travelling at speeds of about 120 kph, the environmentally friendly trains will now make the journey from Addis Ababa to the port of Djibouti in less than 12 hours. The new railway, which features a modern standard gauge, took the Chinese engineers six years to complete. Engineers were deliberate about the construction process to ensure they left minimal impact on the natural environment.
The project provided direct employment to thousands of locals and provided ample opportunity for technology transfer, with thousands of Ethiopian technicians receiving on the job training by their Chinese counterparts. Observers say the new rail line further highlights China’s growing influence in Africa and its massive footprint on the continents economy.