Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway

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Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway
Bahnstrecke Addis Abeba–Dschibuti.png
  New standard gauge line
Type Heavy rail
System Ethiopian Railway Network
Djiboutian Railway Company
Status In trial service
Locale Ethiopia, Djibouti
Termini Sebeta, Ethiopia
Port of Doraleh, Djibouti
Stations 25 (passengers)
Opened not yet operational
Inauguration 5 October 2016 (5 October 2016) (Ethiopia)
10 January 2017 (10 January 2017) (Djibouti)
Full testing 9 May 2017 (9 May 2017)
Line length 756 km (470 mi)
Number of tracks single-/double- track
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Loading gauge 5300 mm
Electrification Overhead line 25 kV AC / 50 Hz
Operating speed 120 km/h (75 mph) (passenger);
80 km/h (50 mph) (freight)
Signalling automatic block & ETCS-2
Highest elevation 2,356 m (7,730 ft)
Maximum incline 1.83 %
Route map
Addis AbabaFuri-Labu
Akaki-Kaliti – Cargo Terminals
Indode – Depot
Modjo | Modjo Dry Port
(trunk line under construction)
Awash–Hara Gebeya Railway
(railway & station under construction)
Dirē Dawa | Dirē Hawa Dry Port
(trunk line & dry port under construction)
Ali Sabieh
Djibouti CityNagad
Djibouti CityPort of Doraleh
Container | Oil (HDTL) | Multipurpose
(trunk lines & terminal accesses planned)

The Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway is a standard gauge international railway, that serves as the backbone of the new Ethiopian National Railway Network.

The railroad's primary purpose is to connect landlocked Ethiopia to the world market by ensuring a seamless access to a sea port. By doing so, the rail transport of goods appears favorable – if compared to road transport – in terms of volume, costs, safety and speed of transportation for both imports and exports. It serves a strategic goal to allow Ethiopia a sustainable and stable economic development.

The railroad links Ethiopia's capital of Addis Ababa with Djibouti and its Port of Doraleh.[1] More than 95% of Ethiopia's trade passes through Djibouti, accounting for 70% of the activity at the Port of Djibouti.[2][3] The railway is expected to transport up to 24.9 million tonnes of freight annually after a few years of operation.[4] The cargo handling capacity at the Port of Djibouti was at 8 million tonnes of goods annually in 2016 but is expected to grow over the years to finally meet the capacity of the railway.[5]

Despite being officially opened at the end of 2016, construction and testing is still continuing. In October 2017 it was announced that commercial operations would start on the following month.[6]



The Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway runs in general parallel to the abandoned metre-gauge Ethio–Djibouti Railway for most of its length.[7] However, the standard-gauge railway is built on a new, straighter right-of-way that allows for much higher speeds. New stations have been built outside city centres, and the old stations have been decommissioned.[8][9] The railway features 68 viaducts and longer bridges, making up around 2 % of the total railway length. The railway has no tunnels.

The Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa is served by two stations located in the outskirts of the city, at Furi-Labu and at Akaki-Kaliti. The main Furi-Labu station is the only railway station along the entire railway that has two platforms instead of only one. It is located 18 km southwest of the city centre. For comparison, the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport is located 6 km southeast of the city centre. The train station is at a distance of about 10 km southwest of the southern terminus of the Addis Ababa Light Rail, which gives access to the city centre.

The railroad is double-track for the first 115 km from Sebeta over Addis Ababa to Adama. Sebeta is located on the Ethiopian Highlands while Adama sits almost in the middle of the Ethiopian Great Rift Valley. That translates into an elevation difference of almost 650 meters between the two cities. Consequently, the entire double-track section sees the highest slopes of the whole railway. East of Adama, the railroad is single-track with roughly evenly distributed passing loops.[10]

At Awash, there is a junction with the Awash–Hara Gebeya Railway, which is under construction as of 2017. Directly after Awash station, the railway crosses the Awash River canyon with a 155 meters long bridge 60 meters above the canyon. It is the longest bridge of the whole railway. The railway then proceeds further northeastwards. After passing Dire Dawa, the railway changes course and heads directly for Djibouti. Crossing the border between Dewele and Ali Sabieh, it reaches the Djibouti passenger terminal at Nagad railway station, near Djibouti–Ambouli International Airport. Freight trains continue to the Port of Doraleh on diesel power.

Train stations

Train stops on open stretches without platform can outnumber train stops in railway stations by a 2:1 margin, but these stopovers on open stretches are usually not included, when railway stations are counted. There are 25 dedicated railway stations along the railway with 23 having a single platform for passengers to enter or to leave trains. These platforms allow access without having the need to use stairs. Only the Furi-Labu railway station (and the Awash railway station after completed expansion in 2018) have two platforms connected through a footbridge above the overhead catenary system. This footbridge also has elevators at both ends for mobility-reduced passengers. The platforms are roofed to protect passengers against sun, wind and rain. Railway stations for passenger trains always have a station building directly attached to the back of the principal platform. Consequently, all railway stations with a single platform have space for only one platform line and do not allow the presence of more than one train at the platform at the same time. In contrast, the Furi-Labu and Awash railway stations with their two platforms have the space for two (Furi-Labu) or three (Awash) platform lines. All platforms are around 330 meters long. The Awash railway station plays a special role as it sits at the junction of two railway lines.

The station buildings are used for ticketing and for refreshments and contain waiting rooms and even rooms for prayers. They have media available (at least electricity, water). The outer appearance of the station buildings shows some sort of architectural eclecticism including Ethiopian elements with some Chinese interpretation and rounded elements.

Railway specifications

The Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway was based on the Chinese National Railway Class 2 Standard.[11] However, with explicit demand by the Ethiopian Railway Corporation, some changes were made and adapted, which do not fit the Chinese standard.

The single-track section is equipped with passing loops with three lines. Often, the passing loops are present at the location of train stations. The total length of passing loops is designed to be 1100 m.

The railway line is almost fully electrified. Power is transmitted at 230 kV and 130 kV to eight substations. Traction power is supplied at 35.8 km intervals, with 18+1 stations in Ethiopia and three in Djibouti.[15]

General electrification ends after the Djibouti–Nagad passenger station in the direction of the Port of Doraleh. The same is true for trunk lines to dry ports and for the dry ports themselves as well as for the Akaki-Kaliti Cargo Terminals. This is necessary due to the interference of the overhead catenary with loading / unloading cranes. The electric locomotives on those sections will be replaced by diesel power shunting locomotives.

Rolling stock

The rolling stock is the same as for the entire National Railway Network of Ethiopia.

All the rolling stock belongs to the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC) and to the companies constructing and/or managing the railway. Djibouti did not buy any rolling stock, even the shunting operations in the Port of Doraleh of Djibouti will be performed by ERC rolling stock and ERC personnel. Djibouti focused on paying its share on the construction of the railway instead of buying vehicles.


Decline of the old metre-gauge railway

The railway replaces the abandoned Ethio-Djibouti Railway, a metre-gauge railway that was originally built by the French between 1894 and 1917, so it had all the deficiencies of a colonial-era railway, with steep gradients and tight curves.[7][16] The old railway was considered to be one of the most dangerous railways in the world. one of the 10 worst railway accidents in history happened close to Awash, where four overcrowded coaches derailed on a river bridge and plunged into darkness. As the Ethio–Djibouti Railway deteriorated from a lack of spare parts and maintenance, Addis Ababa lost railroad access to the sea in the 1980s. To the beginning of the 21st century, an irregular rail service was still running from time to time between Dire Dawa and Djibouti City. Operation then silently ceased between 2008 and 2011.

Railway Construction (2011–2017)

At that time, Ethiopia initiated an ambitious Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) which foresaw a lot of investments into the infrastructure of Ethiopia to allow for a speedy economic development. One of the key elements of the GTP was a heavy investment into the transportation infrastructure, in particular railroads. In 2011, the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC) awarded contracts to two Chinese state-owned companies for the construction of a new and electrified standard gauge railway from Addis Ababa to the Djibouti border. The railway is expected to reduce cargo transit times from three days by road to twelve hours by train and to reduce cargo transport costs to a third compared to the transport by road.[17] The new line was built by two Chinese state-owned enterprises, the China Railway Group (CREC) and the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CRCC).[18]

The 320 kilometres (200 mi) stretch from Sebeta to Mieso was awarded to the CREC,[19] and the 339 kilometres (211 mi) section from Mieso to the Djibouti border was awarded to the CRCC.[20] In 2012, Djibouti selected the CRCC to complete the final 100 km to the port of Djibouti.[21] The total costs of the railway amounted to US$1.873 billion for the Sebeta-Mieso section, US$1.12 billion for the Mieso–Dewele section and US$525 million for the Dewele–Port of Doraleh section.[22]

In 2013, loans totalling US$3 billion were secured from the Exim Bank of China, with US$2.4 billion going to the Ethiopian section of the railway and the balance to be spent in Djibouti.[23] Additional funding was secured from the China Development Bank and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.[24] 20,000 Ethiopians and 5,000 Djiboutians were hired for construction work.[25] Track-laying was completed on the Mieso–Djibouti segment of the project in June 2015.[26]

In 2015, farmers in Ethiopia had suffered crop failures of between 50% and 90% due to a catastrophic drought, and the port of Djibouti was backed up with ships waiting to unload grain for hungry Ethiopians.[27] Although construction was still in progress on some sections, the completed portion of the railway was put into emergency operation in November 2015 to carry grain to drought-stricken Ethiopia.[28][29]

The officially completed Ethiopian section was formally inaugurated on 5 October 2016 in the new Furi-Labu railway station in Addis Ababa, by the presidents of Ethiopia and Djibouti.[30] On 10 January 2017, the 100 km section of Djibouti side was inaugurated[31][32] in a ceremony held in the new Nagad railway station of Djibouti City[33] by Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh and Ethiopia’s prime minister Hailemariam Dessalegn,[34] and the director general of the International Union of Railways (UIC), Jean-Pierre Loubinoux.[35]

The two prime contractors, CREC and CRCC have also formed a consortium to operate the entire railway for the first 3–5 years, while local personnel are trained.[36][22][37]

A survey and benchmarking among East African governments in early 2017 revealed, that the actual costs of the railway were indeed around US $5.2m per km of railway, around 30% more than planned, resulting in total costs of around US $4.5b.[13] Despite being inaugurated in October 2016 and January 2017, Djiboutian authorities still consider the railway to be under construction and expect it to become operational not before the end of 2017.[38]

Trial service phase (2016–2017)

An official trial service began on the railway after inauguration in October 2016.[39] At that time, the railway was still not fully operational. Due to issues with the electric service in particular in the section between Mieso and Dembele, trains had to use both electrical and diesel locomotives to be able to move forward. On 9 May 2017 it was possible to perform a first thorough stress test with more than 30 trains on the line at the same time. Passenger trains ran between Furi-Labu and Dire Dawa, while freight services started in both directions between the Port of Doraleh and the Modjo Dry Port near Mojo railway station.[40] This first test failed, which was attributed to electrical supply shortages between urban and rural areas along the line.[41]

Railway integration

The construction of the railway line was an EPC/Turnkey project (FIDIC), while the surrounding infrastructure was – with a few exceptions – neglected. To put the railway line into successful operation after completion, personnel, logistics, infrastructure and also maintenance elements around the railway line have to be indicated, developed, constructed, and implemented.

Main issues

The railway line was built without having access roads, trunk lines, storage facilities and dry ports in mind, which rendered it almost useless and without value for freight and passenger transport services. It was official policy to have a "cheap railway line first" with integrating work considered being "easy and quick" afterwards.[42] Another official voice called the railway integration as being too complex to consider at the initial railway planning stage due to many regional and local authorities having to cooperate and to coordinate.[43]

The Port of Doraleh terminus as one of the key elements of the railway is effectively non-functional. No trunk line to the three different terminals have been built. The basic infrastructure to store, to move and to handle goods, containers and fuel is missing.[41][43] There was no contract to build the trunk lines and no contract to provide fuel filling equipment or to provide the infrastructure to handle containers. It was – again – a general communication and coordination issue between authorities.[43]

After inauguration of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC) found itself to have accumulated an uncomfortable amount of debt – almost one third of the annual state budget of Ethiopia – resulting in difficulties to pay back loans. There is almost no option to provide additional funding for much-needed dry ports, storage facilities, trunk lines and access roads to have the railway integration in place to generate much-needed revenues to balance the debt.[41][44] Nevertheless, mandatory trunk lines are now being built, such as the new Dire Dawa Dry Port, which alone took 12 months to negotiate and which costs per km of rails roughly 10 times that of the main Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway – Ethiopian authorities consider the costs being very high.[18][42]

Measures to overcome the issues

Construction of the Dire Dawa Dry Port with a trunk line commenced in March 2017.[42] The construction of a trunk line to Modjo Dry Port is well underway (May 2017) but visibly far from being commissioned.[45] The missing facilities and trunk lines within the Port of Doraleh are now "soon" to be built through a combined effort of the two governments of Djibouti and Ethiopia. The very new Djibouti Multipurpose Terminal, inaugurated in April 2017, will now also be connected to the railway through a trunk line.[41][46]

The Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway project provided some lessons. Two other active major railway construction projects, the Awash–Hara Gebeya Railway construction project and the Hara Gebeya–Mek'ele Railway construction project were expanded to include the most basic pieces of trunk lines and dry port constructions (one future dry port in Mek'ele and one soon to be built in Kombolcha).[47]

To account for the current lack of revenues from the projects, new and existing railways and railway projects could be partially or completely outsourced or sold to private investors.[44][48] To increase both the utilization of and revenues from existing railways, any interested railway transportation service provider will be allowed to earn a license to use the existing railway infrastructure.[49]

See also


  1. ^ "Ethiopia – Djibouti high speed railway finally completed". CGTN. 17 January 2017. 
  2. ^ Meseret, Elias (5 October 2016). "Ethiopia's new coastal rail link runs through restive region". Associated Press. 
  3. ^ Maasho, Aaron (17 December 2011). "Ethiopia signs Djibouti railway deal with China". Reuters. Ethiopia and Djibouti's economies are reliant on each other with about 70 percent of all trade through Djibouti's port coming from its land-locked neighbour. 
  4. ^ a b "Ethiopia steams ahead with vision for a modern national rail network". Global Construction Review. 17 February 2015. 
  5. ^ "Djibouti opens new port as part of $7 bln/year free-trade zone plan". Reuters. 24 May 2017. 
  6. ^ "Ethiopia – Djibouti electric rail starts operations in November". AfricaNews. 13 Oct 2017. 
  7. ^ a b Blas, Javier (27 November 2013). "Chinese investment triggers new era of east African rail building". The Financial Times. This [new] line, whose building started several months ago, runs mostly parallel to the abandoned Imperial Railway Company of Ethiopia track built between 1894 and 1917. 
  8. ^ "Ethiopia has a lot riding on its new, Chinese-built railroad to the sea". Washington Post. Retrieved 4 October 2016. 
  9. ^ Vaughan, Jenny (10 March 2013). "China's Latest Ethiopian Railway Project Shows Their Growing Global Influence". Agence France Presse. But he said that if the old train ceases to operate, it will be a great loss for Ethiopia and for Dire Dawa, the commercial town in northeastern Ethiopia where the main train station and workshops were headquartered. The new station is slated to be built just outside Dire Dawa, a town renowned for its French atmosphere. "Dire Dawa will suffer," said Josef, who is now the director of the French cultural centre in the city. The train station -- known locally as "la gare" -- and the workshops still stand, unused for years. 
  10. ^ "China's CREC to complete section of Ethiopia's key railway project". China Daily USA. Xinhua. 19 May 2015. The Sebeta/Addis Ababa-Mieso railway project covers a total length of 329.145 km. The Ababa-Adama section is a double track with 114.73 km length while the Adama-Mieso is a single track covering 214.145 km. 
  11. ^ "首条全套"中国标准"电气化铁路非洲铺轨竣工_新闻中心_专题专栏_走出去_国际业务动态_中国铁建股份有限公司, approximately: The first full set of "China Standard" completed the laying of African railways electrified railway". 中国铁建股份有限公司 (China Railway Construction Co., Ltd.). Retrieved 11 January 2017. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f Shimelis Atile (May 2015). "Traction Power Consumption Analysis to Investigate Freight Train Operational Speed In the case of Ethio-Djibouti Railway Corridor" (PDF). Addis Ababa Institute of Technology (AAiT). 
  13. ^ a b c "Information about Standard Gauge Railway" (PDF). Uganda Ministry of Works, Transportation and Communication. 7 April 2017. See also New Vision: 
  14. ^ 总裁办公室 (CEO's office). "浙江众合科技股份有限公司 - 众合科技为非洲首条中国标准电气化铁路保驾护航 (Zhejiang Zhonghe Science & Technology Co., Ltd. - Zhonghe Technology Secures China's First Standard Electric Railway in Africa)". Retrieved 11 January 2017. 
  15. ^ "Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway Line to Start Early 2016". DP World Doraleh. Capital. 4 October 2015. 
  16. ^ "Briefing Memorandum: The Djibouti-Ethiopia Railway" (PDF). ICA Meeting: Financing Transport for Growth in Africa. 3–4 December 2007. According to the results of the rehabilitation pre-feasibility study, sections of the railway are laid at steep gradients and have curvatures that require modification in order to use upgraded locomotives at full capacity. 
  17. ^ "Ethiopia: Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway Officially Completed, Creating High Speed Link Between Djibouti and Ethiopia". Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority (Djibouti). 10 January 2017. 
  18. ^ a b "Chinese-built railway helps propel Ethiopia's industrialization drive". 2 October 2016. 
  19. ^ "Chinese, Ethiopian firms sign railway project deal". China Daily USA. Xinhua. 26 October 2011. The Ethiopian Railway Corporation and the China Railway Group Limited (CREC) on Tuesday signed an accord that enables the latter to construct railways that runs from Sebeta town, some 25 km away from Addis Ababa up to Mieso town in the east of Addis Ababa. The total distance of the railway project covers some 320 kms, according to the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC). 
  20. ^ Berhane, Daniel (18 December 2011). "Second Chinese company signs up for Ethio-Djibouti rail route". Horn Affairs - English. China Civil Engineering Construction Cooperation signed an agreement on Friday for the construction of the second half of the new Ethiopian – Djibouti rail route. ... The cost of the project is estimated about 1.12 Billion USD – about 3.3 million USD per kilometre. 
  21. ^ "Contract signed for final section of new Djibouti - Ethiopia railway". Railway Gazette. 16 February 2012. The government has awarded China Railway Construction Corp a contract to build its 100 km section of the new standard gauge railway which will replace the out-of-use metre-gauge line from the coast to Addis Abeba in Ethiopia. Announcing the US $505m contract covering the Djibouti section of the route on February 15, CRCC said work was expected to take 60 months. The contractor will arrange Chinese financial support for the project. 
  22. ^ a b Yewondwossen, Muluken (5 September 2016). "Chinese companies nab Djibouti railway project". Capital Ethiopia. Retrieved 11 January 2017. 
  23. ^ Yewondwossen, Muluken (27 May 2013). "Ethiopia, Djibouti secure $3 bln loan for railway project". Capital Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC) and the Djibouti government have secured nearly three billion dollars loan from the Chinese Export Import (EXIM) Bank for the construction of the railway project that stretches from Addis Ababa to Djibouti. 
  24. ^ Maasho, Aaron (17 December 2011). "Ethiopia signs Djibouti railway deal with China". Reuters. China Railway Group and China Railway Engineering Corporation have won tenders for other sections of the 656-kilometre build. Those companies have brokered loans for Ethiopia from China's EXIM Bank, Development Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), Getachew said. 
  25. ^ "Ethiopia-Djibouti railway sets new model for China-Africa cooperation". Xinhua. 5 October 2016. 
  26. ^ "China's CCECC completes track laying of Ethiopia- Djibouti railway". Xinhua. 13 June 2015. Archived from the original on 14 June 2015. 
  27. ^ Jeffrey, James (15 August 2016). "Ethiopian Food Aid Jammed Up in Djibouti Port". Inter Press Service. 
  28. ^ "Ethiopia – Djibouti railway carries first freight". Railway Gazette. 23 November 2015. Retrieved 23 November 2015. 
  29. ^ Harper, Mary (23 November 2015). "Can Ethiopia's railway bring peace to Somalia?". BBC World Service News,. Retrieved 23 November 2015. 
  30. ^ "Ethiopia – Djibouti railway inaugurated". Railway Gazette. 5 October 2016. 
  31. ^ "China-built railway linking Ethiopia and Djibouti officially opens for business". Shanghaiist. 12 January 2017. 
  32. ^ "Ethiopia: Portion of Ethio-Djibouti Railway to Be Inaugurated Tomorrow". 9 January 2017. 
  33. ^ Vasudevan Sridharan (11 January 2017). "China-built rail network in African heartland inaugurated". International Business Times. 
  34. ^ "Djibouti inaugurates railway link to Ethiopia". 
  35. ^ David Briginshaw (12 January 2017). "Djibouti inaugurates new line to Addis Ababa". Rail Journal. 
  36. ^ Yewondwossen, Muluken (22 December 2016). "Two Chinese firms to overseas Ethio-Djibouti railway". Capital Ethiopia Newspaper. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  37. ^ "From builder to teacher -- China brings railway expertise to Africa". Xinhua. 4 October 2016. 
  38. ^ "Grand plans for Djibouti". Port of Djibouti SA / World Port Development. April 2017. 
  39. ^ "Ethiopia: Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway to Start Trial Service". 29 September 2016. 
  40. ^ "Ethio Djibuti railway commences regular test run". 9 May 2017. 
  41. ^ a b c d "ከ400 በላይ የባቡር ፉርጎዎች ከጅቡቲ ወደብ አለመነሳት መንግስትን ለከፍተኛ ወጪ እየዳረገ ነው, approximately: The Ethiopian Railways Corporation (ERC) said 412 out of 1171 containers were delayed for a long time at the port of Djibouti" (in Amharic). 22 June 2017. 
  42. ^ a b c "Chinese Company Begins Dire Dawa Port Construction". Addis Forune. 28 March 2017. 
  43. ^ a b c "Absence of trunk lines, operational depot hinders launch of fuel train transport". 12 November 2016. 
  44. ^ a b "Running out of Steam". 28 January 2017. 
  45. ^ "The Ethio-Djibouti Rail Way Project-cargo train has made a first trial move from Djibouti port to Modjo dry port". 25 May 2017. 
  46. ^ "Djibouti's Makeover". Port of Djibouti SA: Interview with Saad Omar Guelleh, General Manager of Port of Djibouti SA. 21 March 2017. 
  47. ^ "Gov't to Relocate Kombolcha Dryport". 1 April 2017. 
  48. ^ "Ethiopia to outsource construction, management of planned railway projects". 27 March 2017. 
  49. ^ "Bill proposes liberalization of rail transport". 24 June 2017. 
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