The Chinese-built Railway connecting Ethiopia to the sea

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In a development set to transform the economic landscape of Ethiopia and Djibouti, a fleet of brand-new trains ferry goods and people from the Ethiopian capital to Djibouti. The 750-kilometer (460-mile) railway, constructed by two Chinese companies, establishes a vital link between Addis Ababa and the Red Sea port city of Djibouti, promising substantial benefits for both nations.

The railway which started operating in 2016 was initially slow to reach full capacity. But in recent months the railways has experienced a resurgence in service, highlighting the significance of modernizing infrastructure, emphasizing its potential to accelerate Ethiopia’s manufacturing industry and stimulate economic growth through enhanced trade and employment opportunities.

The electrified railroad, a first of its kind in Africa, is expected to drastically reduce transit time between Ethiopia and Djibouti, enabling goods to be transported in approximately 10 hours compared to the arduous multi-day journey by road. The railway is poised to alleviate congestion on the existing road route, which currently accommodates a staggering 1,500 trucks daily, facilitating 90 percent of Ethiopia’s imports and exports through Djibouti.

The Ethiopian-Djibouti railway line lives one of the largest projects Ethiopia has undertaken with development

Ethiopia, boasting one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, and Djibouti, strategically positioned as a key trade hub, stand to benefit immensely from the enhanced connectivity afforded by the new railway. The project marks the retirement of the outdated French-built diesel line, underscoring a new era of modern infrastructure development in the region.

While the inauguration of the railway signals a significant milestone, years of delays in utilizing capacity, initially limited to cargo transportation. Chinese expertise played a pivotal role in ensuring the smooth functioning of the railway during this transitional phase before handover to Ethiopian counterparts.

China’s substantial investment in Ethiopia’s infrastructure, including the landmark railway project, underscores the deepening economic ties between the two nations. The railway, financed primarily by China’s Exim Bank and executed by Chinese contractors, represents a cornerstone of Ethiopia’s ambitious plans to expand its railway network, with future phases envisioned to connect neighboring countries including Kenya, Sudan, and South Sudan.

Despite the significant progress achieved with the inauguration of the railway, the broader vision of a transcontinental African railway spanning from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean remains aspirational. The realization of such a grand endeavor would require navigating complex geopolitical challenges and addressing infrastructure gaps in conflict-affected regions. In the meantime Ethiopia has plans to expand its rail infrastructure, connecting more of the country in the years ahead.

As Ethiopia and Djibouti embark on a new chapter of economic integration and development, the inauguration of the Chinese-led railway project heralds a promising future characterized by enhanced connectivity, trade facilitation, and regional cooperation.

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