Africa’s first standard-gauge electrified railroad began operating in January 2018. The Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway Line stretches 752 kilometers, from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to the Red Sea port of Djibouti.
The trains travel at speeds about 120 kilometers per hour, reducing the journey time from three days by road to about 12 hours by train.
The 3.4-billion-U.S.-dollar project was funded 70 percent by the Export-Import Bank of China and 30 percent by the Ethiopian government. The railway was built and is currently operated by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation Ltd (CCECC) and China Railway Group Limited (CREC).
On a stormy day, CGTN visited the railway’s Adama train station in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.
We interviewed Mebratu Delelegn, director of Operation and Control Center (OCC) of Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway’s Adama Station.
Delelegn, who majored in electrical engineering, said the railway is a great opportunity for Ethiopia as well as for him to apply his specialty. For the country, he notes that local staff members and residents along the line benefit from the railway. Since the project is the first of its kind on the continent, locals were able to learn from Chinese companies on things like railway technologies involving signaling, communication and traction power.
He said that because Ethiopia is a landlocked country, almost 95 percent of its imports and exports are transported through Djibouti’s ports. When using this railway, locals could cut the three-day road travel time between Djibouti’s ports and Ethiopia to 10-14 hours.
Delelegn also notes that railway transportation solidifies economic growth by reducing the travel time for freight transport, as well as improve the movement of people between Ethiopia and Djibouti, allowing their citizens to have greater interactions and exchange their cultures.
Love story on the railway
On the railway bringing people closer together, CGTN interviewed a couple in Addis Ababa whose lives were transformed by the project.
Chen Hao, 28, is a translator who’s been working on the Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway since 2013. He comes from Luoyang, an ancient city in central China’s Henan Province.
Kidist, 30, a translator and freight staff member also working on the railway, comes from Ethiopia.
In 2015, Chen met Kidist’s elder sister at work, who introduced Kidist to Chen. They started dating soon afterward.
In September 2016, Kidist enrolled in the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu, southwest China’s Sichuan Province, with a scholarship. In 2018, she received her master’s degree in computer science.
After graduation, she went back to Ethiopia in 2018 and worked with Chen for the railway project. They got married near the end of that year, after dating for three years
When CGTN asked Kidist what her colleagues and friends think about their marriage, she said they are mostly surprised. They might have some worries over any difference between their cultures and any problem in communicating, but they all send their best wishes to the couple.
Kidist said she and Chen communicate in Chinese, English, and Amharic, Ethiopia’s local language. She does not worry any cultural differences, as she had studied and lived in China for two years. She also jokes that compared with some Ethiopian men, Chinese men do more housework.
Kidist is now five months pregnant.
They said the baby will have Chinese and Ethiopian names. Kidist said perhaps the Chinese name will be chosen by her Chinese family, her Chinese Baba (Chinese for Papa), and Mama.
On their future plans, Chen said he’s thinking about working a few more years on the Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway, and then for the good of his wife, especially after the birth to their baby, the couple would move back to China.
Future of Ethiopian Railway Network
The Ethiopian Roads Authority said in May 2018 that the East African country is presently working to have a road network totaling 200,000 km by the end of the second five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP-II), effective from 2015 to 2020