Rail transport in Ethiopia

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Rail transport in Ethiopia is done within the National Railway Network of Ethiopia, which is mostly in planning and construction stage and currently consists of four electrified standard gauge railway lines: the Addis Ababa Light Rail, the Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway, the Awash–Hara Gebeya Railway and the Hara Gebeya–Mek'ele Railway. In contrast to other countries, railway construction has become a dominating topic in Ethiopian politics.

All railways in Ethiopia are planned, built, owned and operated by an Ethiopian state-owned enterprise, the Ethiopian Railways Corporation (ERC). A 2017 legislation opens rail transport to the private sector, from the construction of rail infrastructure to the operation of the same infrastructure and on to the operation of privately owned trains.[1][2][3] All current (July 2017) railways and the surrounding infrastructure as well as all the rolling stock are entirely owned and administered by the ERC.

Map of the planned National Railway Network of Ethiopia with its different corridors

The National Railway Network of Ethiopia[edit]

For more than a century, Ethiopia was served by an international metre gauge railway, from Addis Ababa to the Red Sea port of Djibouti City in Djibouti. That decades-old railway, the Ethio-Djibouti Railway and its rolling stock of similar age was eventually lacking spare parts and was finally closed down over a number of years after the end of the 20th century. In the year 2010, the ruling party in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, decided to support their ambitious Growth and Transformation Programme, by setting up The National Railway Network of Ethiopia.

Planning stage[edit]

The National Railway Network of Ethiopia serves a strategic goal to allow Ethiopia a sustainable and stable economic development. 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. The network's primary purpose is then both to connect landlocked Ethiopia to the world market by ensuring a seamless access to one or several sea ports and to include Ethiopias economically most relevant regions. The primary port for Ethiopia is Djibouti. More than 95% of Ethiopia's trade passes through Djibouti.[4][5]

Export products are (in 2016) to more than 67% coffee, oilseed crops, vegetables and flowers. Secondary is mining with Gold and Tantalum (around 15%). The available infrastructure (roads, telecom, electric power, etc...) for setting up businesses (such as apparel / textile industries, sugar factories) mirrors that.

Commodities for export are mainly produced in the southern, southwestern and western parts of Ethiopia. A lot of cheap force of Labour is also available there. In the National Railway Network of Ethiopia, the main line, shown in red, goes into this area, where 50% of all Ethiopian cities with a population of 80.000 inhabitants and more are in immediate reach of the proposed main line. The main line connects them with the port of Djibouti and with the world economy – with one railway.

A critical economic mass for a railway might be given with this main line, an economic viability study has never been published by the ERC or by the Ethiopian government. In the 1960ies, however, when only the already ageing metre gauge railway between the Port of Djibouti and Addis Ababa did exist, a similar railway network project was proposed. External experts from Yugoslavia and France proposed an extension for the existing metre gauge railway starting in Adama, that (together with the already existing sections) followed almost exactly the course of the in 2010 proposed main line, but terminated somewhat short in Dilla. All studies at that time indicated the economic viability of that extension line and France then offered a loan to construct the railway line between Adama and Dilla.[6] This old study, while certainly outdated, still gives at least a hint at the economic viability of the proposed main line 50 years later.

The planned railway network considers a strategic extension to the south going from the main line into Kenya. Kenya also set up a railway network program, called the LAPSSET corridor (also known as the Lamu corridor), which foresees joining an Ethiopian rail network at the border between both countries near Moyale. That interconnection would allow Ethiopia to gain strategic access to two more ports in addition to the port of Djibouti, the ports of Lamu and Mombasa in Kenya.

Beyond the main line, the railways are organized in transport corridors. Two east-west corridors are visible, while there is only one north-south corridor. The main line south of Addis Ababa is member of both the southern east-west corridor as well as of the north-south corridor.

The ERC split the National Railway Network of Ethiopia into eight railway routes:[7]

Course Branches Total
1 Sebeta - Addis Ababa - Modjo - Awash - Dire Dawa - Port of Doraleh 756 km
2 Modjo - Shashamane - Arba Minch - Konso - Weito Shashamane - Hawassa
Konso - Moyale
905 km
3 Addis Ababa - Ijaji - Jimma - Bedele Jimma - Guraferda - Dimma 740 km
4 Ijaji - Nekemte - Asosa - Kormuk 460 km
5 Awash - Kombolcha - Hara Gebeya - Mek'ele - Shire 757 km
6 Finote Selam - Bahir Dar - Wereta - Weldya - Hara Gebeya - Semera - Elidar - Tadjoura 734 km
7 Wereta - Azezo - Metemma 244 km
8 Adama - Iteya - Gasera Iteya - Asella 248 km

The railway routes as presented by the ERC are ordered for their expected economic impact, those with the highest expected economic potential first. First are the two routes constituting the main line, then two routes addressing the west and south (southern east-west corridor) therefore connecting with other economically interesting parts of Ethiopia. The fifth route is then connecting north to the northern east-west corridor which will further be developed through routes 6 and 7. Route 8 is again in the southern east-west corridor and the only one in the southeastern part of the country. A part of the financial budget required to construct some of the routes was considered to arrive through revenues from the ever-expanding railway network.

The Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway[edit]

In 2011, one year after finalizing the plans on the national railway network, financing was secured for ERC-Route 1 (the Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway) and construction was awarded to Chinese construction firms.[5] In October 2016 and January 2017, the railway was completed and inaugurated.[8][9] Despite being inaugurated, Djiboutian authorities still consider the railway to be under construction and expect it to become operational not before the end of 2017.[10]

The physical railway of 756 km length alone was considered to cost around US $3.5b (US $4m per km of railway) while the Exim Bank of China facilitated a package, that resulted in loans of about US $2.5b in total for the Ethiopian section of the railway plus another US $500m for the Djiboutian section.[11] A later survey among East African governments in early 2017 revealed, that the actual costs were indeed around US $5.2m per km of railway, around 30% more than planned, resulting in total costs of around US $4.5b.[12] As the loans came from China, most contractors were from China. The construction was done as EPC/Turnkey project (FIDIC).

Northern Railways[edit]

Contradicting expectation, no contract and no financing was awarded to ERC-Route 2, so that neither the completion of the main line nor the link to Kenya's LAPSSET-corridor could be started. No railways were awarded for construction in the south and southwest, where originally the highest potential for immediate exports was to be assumed. Instead, two of three sections of ERC-Route 5 (the Awash–Hara Gebeya Railway and the Hara Gebeya–Mek'ele Railway) were awarded to contractors in 2012, both railway lines running northwards from the town of Awash to Hara Gebeya and then from Hara Gebeya to Mek'ele in Tigray Region. It then took more than two years, until 2014, before financing was secured so that construction of both railways could start in February 2015.[13] The constructions were started as EPC/Turnkey projects (FIDIC).

Awash–Hara Gebeya Railway[edit]

The 389 km Awash–Hara Gebeya Railway clearly is of strategic significance. It connects the whole north of Ethiopia with almost 1/3rd of the Ethiopian population with the main line and through the Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway with Ethiopia's lifeline, the port of Djibouti. Also, several large cities of Amhara Region are directly served by the Railway and the railway will connect Ethiopian industrial centers like Kombolcha with the world. In addition, the main ERC facilities (maintenance workshops etc. at Kombolcha) will be located there. These facilities add to the 389 km of the main railway, making a total of 447 km of rails. For this railway, the ERC was able to secure almost as much external funding per km of railway as for the Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway (loans fo US $1.165b at total costs of US $1.7b), except that not Chinese but European investors, facilitated through Credit Suisse, gave loans for the railway. Funding was provided by a consortium of lenders, including Türk Eximbank, the Swedish National Export Credits Guarantee Board, Denmark's Export Credit Board, and Swiss Export Risk Insurance.[14] The Turkish company Yapı Merkezi and its European subcontractors were chosen to do the work. Substantial revenues are to be expected from this railway after completion.

The construction contract assumes costs per km of railway to be US $3.8m, which is surprisingly low for a challenging terrain with 12 tunnels; theoretical calculations led to US $7m per km in 2015.[15] This gives rise to the speculation, that either another (and indirect) European funding plays a role or that only the first phase of the railway between Awash and Kombolcha was covered by the US $1.7b contract. In the latter case, the costs per km would rise to about US $6.3m per km, which sounds more reasonable. That would also fit the assumed costs of the Hara Gebeya–Mek'ele Railway, with US $6.2b per km (see below), which is running through a similar terrain. According to Yapı Merkezi, the main construction firm, the financing of the second phase between Kombolcha and Hara Gebeya hasn't been fully secured by August 2017 and construction works there are uncertain to some extent.[16]

Hara Gebeya–Mek'ele Railway[edit]

The 216 km Hara Gebeya–Mek'ele Railway (with a total of 241 km of rails) did not receive any known loan from foreign institutions (there have been several and always contradictory reports but a look at the balance sheet provides the numbers[1]). Given the total construction budget of US $1.5b, expected costs were US $6.2m per km of rails, which was substantially higher than that for the other railways. Without loans in place for buffering the investment, the ERC had to allocate more own budget for the construction of these 241 km of rails than for the in total ~1300 km of rails of the Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway and of the Awash–Hara Gebeya Railway altogether. The China Communications Construction Company became the prime contractor for the railway.[17]

The benefit of the Hara Gebeya–Mek'ele Railway was to connect almost ~7% of Ethiopia's population in the mostly rugged and difficult to reach Tigray region with each other as the railway line is running almost entirely within Tigray region. In 2010, the Tigray region GDP per capita amounted to US $232 from official numbers,[18] while at the same time Ethiopia in total had much more (US $398). Derived from these numbers, the GDP of Tigray Region amounted to only 3-4% of the Ethiopian GDP in 2010. Construction of a very expensive railway in the economic "nowhere"? No substantial revenues could be expected from this railway for the foreseeable future even after completion.

Tigray is geographically quite isolated in Ethiopia, with deserts to the east and west, one mountain range to the south and – maybe most importantly – a closed border to the north with a sometimes flaring-up war with Eritrea.[19] Such conditions don't give rise to high expectations for economic development prospects and provide another counter-argument against a railway.

Tigrayans have been dominating the Ethiopian government for decades (the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front is dominating the Ethiopian ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front[20]). Consequently, there was speculation on social media that the railway was to be used primarily for military purposes in another hot war with Eritrea. Others speculated, that the construction of the railway was a move to prevent any economic isolation of Tigray. There was indeed both an expressed fear of being left behind and of being surrounded by enemies in Tigrayan media.[21][22]

The debt of the ERC eventually became too high to continue construction works on this particular railway.[1] This led to a stop of works early in 2017, due to a "lack of financer", as was reported by the ERC to the World Food Programme through a Logistics Capacity Assessment.[23] In March 2017, the construction stop became apparent, workers were laid off and most of the construction sites were silent in May 2017. The construction progress was at 46% completion at that time.[24] A few weeks later, after the begin of the new Ethiopian fiscal year 2017/18 (started 8 July 2017), the ERC reported about a new wave of construction works at railway sites with a focus on tunnels and bridges.[25]

Potash, Ports and Peace[edit]

In 2011, the Hara Gebeya–Mek'ele Railway to Tigray Region was to be joined by the Hara Gebeya–Tadjoura Railway, which was to be constructed at the same time as the other railway. The rationale behind that was potash transport from Dallol to the port of Tadjoura. The Dallol site is undeveloped, but has the third-largest potash reserves worldwide (>2 billion tonnes in K2O equivalents), the production costs would be US $38 per tonne, the lowest production costs worldwide for decades to come.[26] Mass commodities like potash are usually best transported by railways to keep operating costs low. While the National Railway Network of Ethiopia was in planning stage, potash prices on the world market fluctuated between below US $200 and US $875 per tonne, but were rather in the upper half of that range, which made railway construction an interesting precondition for large revenues from potash exports (with a good share of between 25-30% going to the Ethiopian government through taxes). As sea port for exports foreseen was the Port of Tadjoura in Djibouti, which was expanded from 2012 on with potash transports in mind.[27] The port was finally opened in July 2017, dedicated to 4m tonnes of potash exports annually.[28] At that time, in 2012, potash from Dallol was expected to be transported by road over 180 km to a railway site near Mek'ele first. After that, rail transport was foreseen all the way to Tadjoura. In 2013, after a final feasibility study (completed in February 2013), it was considered to transport potash rather by road over 330 km from Dallol to Serdo northeast of Semera, followed by rail transport from Serdo to Tadjoura; this railway line between Serdo and Tadjoura was to be constructed almost immediately. In addition, a new railway for the 330 km between Serdo and Dallol was proposed as well, a railway line, that was not formerly considered for the National Railway Network of Ethiopia.[29] The section of the Hara Gebeya–Tadjoura Railway between Hara Gebeya and Serdo then lost its priority. For the construction of the remaining section between Serdo and Tadjoura, the ERC secured US $300m funding[30] from India in 2013 and published a tender in August 2014, but only to postpone it in January 2015.[31] The construction of this railway started to appear unlikely; and potash prices on the world market were continuously dropping between 2012 and 2017.

The potash companies adapted to the new situation. A haul road of several hundreds of km length was to be built through uninhabited areas to Tadjoura. The road transport itself was considered to more than double operating costs. There was no construction of a state-owned railway assumed anymore. A privately built railway was to be initiated instead, if the annual potash production at the Dallol site would exceed 5m tonnes. That followed the results of a pre-feasibility study from June 2016.[32] Even despite low potash prices, the Ethiopian government could expect more than US $100m annually from potash exports through taxes (or even US $1b annually if the potash prices would rise again to the 2009 level). In addition, potash would give Ethiopia's mostly agricultural economy, still based very much on subsistence farming without any access to fertilizers, a cheap source of fertilizer from potash, to be used in Ethiopia itself. Fertilizers would reduce the danger of crop failures with subsequent famines somewhat.[33]

Any start of potash mining however required a development of the Dallol site. Such a development was foreseen to require foreign direct investments of more than US $2b. In addition, stable conditions were needed at Dallol. All that however was difficult given one major roadblock: the decades-old frozen and sometimes flaring-up war with Eritrea at one of the most dangerous borders in the world. The Dallol potash reserves are shared between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the Ethiopian concession areas are in part surrounded on two sides by Eritrean territory. Also, the Dallol site is one of the sites, where a disputed border between both countries did exist during the Eritrean–Ethiopian War. Peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea – unlikely for decades – may however boost the potash business development. The word Peace was first used by the Ethiopian Prime Minister in April 2017 in connection with new railways in Tigray Region, close to the border with Eritrea.[34] Peace would serve both the Ethiopian and Eritrean economy and it would serve not only the potash business development in both countries but would also open a new rail transport corridor through both countries.

On the Eritrean side, an old, now disbanded and nearly 75 km long colonial era railway, the Mersa Fatma–Colulli Railway served early potash transports in the 20th century. It did connect the Dallol potash site to the Eritrean Red Sea coast at the port town of Mersa Fatma, only 80 km away. As the terrain is flat lowlands with a total elevation difference below 100 meters, a railway construction between Dallol and Mersa Fatma would pose no challenges. Economically (and also environmentally), such a short railway line would be very much favorable over haul trucking of hundreds of trucks daily on haul roads over 550 km to the Port of Tadjoura in Djibouti. A Dallol–Mersa Fatma Railway could then be expanded within Ethiopia to a junction with the Hara Gebeya–Mek'ele Railway. That would connect the Railway to the national railway grid and would provide Ethiopia a strategically much wanted second port at Mersa Fatma for the Ethiopian rail network. That might also retrospectively justify the construction of at least sections of the Hara Gebeya–Mek'ele Railway from the economy point of view.

Debt, exports and the IMF[edit]

After the announcement of the two northern railways leading to Tigray in 2012, the ERC was not able to secure loans and enough funding for the construction of other new railway line projects or even parts of them – while already having awarded more than 2400 km of future railways to construction companies. That mostly affected the southern and western parts of Ethiopia and therefore the areas with expected economic prospects. Even apparent success stories did not hold. In May 2015, the Prime Minister laid the foundation stone for the Addis Ababa–Jimma Railway between Addis Ababa and Jimma, with an extension to Bedele being foreseen. The ERC was considered to have secured a Brazilian loan of US $1b from the Brazilian Development Bank. The prime contractor was Andrade Gutierrez. However, the funding was cancelled shortly after and the construction did not commence.[14]

In 2013, the IMF warned about the lack of a medium-term debt management strategy and lack of debt monitoring and issued concern about Ethiopia’s public debt sustainability while explicitly mentioning the ERC and the two northern railways. At that time, the external debt of the ERC was at 6% of Ethiopias GDP.[35] In 2016, due to a lack of exports and an increasing external debt level of Ethiopia, the IMF raised a yellow flag and increased the debt sustainability risk from "low" to "moderate".[36] Moreover, the IMF asked to reduce the recent pace of increase in external indebtedness, which were considered to be not sustainable over the medium term. A "high" risk was assigned to that part. The IMF asked for intensified efforts to reduce the external imbalance, and to increase and to diversify exports which would yield the highest economic growth dividend over the medium term.[37]

A lack of exports means a lack of revenues to balance the increasing external debt (in US $). ERC planning issues contributed to that situation. The railway between Addis Ababa and Djibouti was officially constructed "as cheap as possible", lacking trunk lines, some operational infrastructure and the infrastructure for freight handling all the way down between Addis Ababa and Djibouti.[38][39] That did not go well and did not allow traffic on the railway in the fiscal year 2016/17. This again did not result in immediate revenues – but expenses. The now-missing infrastructure (such as dry ports for freight handling) had quickly to be planned and then to be constructed. That did not arrive without additional costs, that were neglected during the construction phase of the railway.[38]

In late 2016, the external ERC debt was at 95.7 billion Birr, which translated into US $4.16b. That was a debt originating from the different loans (US $2.5b for loans facilitated by the Chinese Exim-Bank for the Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway, US $1.165b for loans facilitated by Credit Suisse for the Awash–Hara Gebeya Railway and US $500m for loans for the Addis Ababa Light Rail). The number also indicated, that there were almost no revenues from previous years to balance the debt. In July 2016, the ERC had to start to pay interests – and at the beginning of 2017, the external ERC debt started to rise, indicating, that all loans had been used up and that for the first time own Ethiopian money (in US $) from external revenues had to be used for the ongoing construction works of the railways.[1] The debt level of the ERC arrived at 120 billion Birr (US $5.2b) in June 2017 and at ~7.5% of Ethiopias 2016 GDP.[3] Given only the running (2017) construction contracts and not expecting substantially higher costs, also given the existing IMF GDP growth forecasts for Ethiopia and given that external revenues (for example from exports) perfectly match all necessary interests payments on the loans, the ERC would arrive at an external debt level of US $7.2b or 8.2% of the GDP in 2020.[1][37] This assumes, that loans do not have to be paid back until 2020. These numbers make it difficult to consider starting new railway construction projects.

Government officials mentioned exit strategies and openly discussed the possibility to partially sell the ERC or the Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway to private investors to balance the debt burden of the ERC.[2] The approved 2016/17 budget of the ERC still was supposed to be 60 billion Birr (US $2.6b), almost 1/5th of the annual state budget of Ethiopia. A red flag was raised and the requested budget wasn't simply allocated to the ERC by the government. The construction of the Hara Gebeya-Mek'ele Railway was stopped temporarily. [1] The head of the ERC resigned from his post.[40]

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in April 2017 announced the cancellation of planned and future railway projects in mountainous northern and northwestern Ethiopia, in particular Tigray.[34] Reasons given for the cancellations were the costs of US $7-8m per km railway in rugged mountains instead of US $4m per km in flat lowlands or costs of roads of just US $1m per km. The Prime Minister stated, that a successful start of operations on the existing railways had priority for the foreseeable future. However, in case of a good economic development in the mountainous area, future railways might be in reach again, also, if Sudan would be cooperating towards Port Sudan. He also noted that peace with Eritrea in particular would make railways in the area likely again.[34]

Public-private partnerships[edit]

Given the high level of external debt, the Ethiopian government announced a cancellation of all efforts to start new loans-based infrastructure developments in July 2017 until Ethiopia sees a large increase in exports. That automatically meant that no new railways were to be built by public companies like the ERC for the foreseeable future. Instead, the Ethiopian government started legislation to implement Public-private partnerships (PPP) in all sectors of infrastructure development and also the rail transport sector and to lift a ban on private ownership on railway lines, hoping to attract foreign investors. That could be done through public-private joint ventures or by private efforts entirely.[2][41]

In accordance with that, the ERC was able to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to outsource the construction of ERC-Route 2 and its branches (the remainder of the main line) to a still to be named foreign company in March 2017, which will earn all revenues from the railway for an undisclosed number of years.[2] The name of the company and the further conditions of the package might be revealed in October 2017, when the mentioned legislation on PPP's is considered to have passed the Ethiopian parliament...[41]


Standard Gauge Network[edit]

Extent of railways[edit]

There are three interconnected overland railways between cities and the Ethiopian hinterland, which are foreseen to be the first railways of a full network. See the National Railway Network of Ethiopia above. In addition, there is a light rail network. These are:

They predominantly serve the economy through freight transport, allowing for the better and cheaper transport of goods between dry ports inside Ethiopia and the Port of Djibouti. It is expected, that these railways will be the backbone of the Ethiopian transport sector and will ease exports and imports while making the transport of goods safer, cheaper and faster. They will promote the cash inflow into Ethiopia, therefore speeding up economic development. Apart from that, a standard gauge light rail is operating in the Ethiopian capital which is also the capital of the African Union, making the transport of persons easier and quicker and more time-efficient. The light rail tracks might connect to the main rail network in the future, as there is no break-of-gauge.

In July 2017, the existing railway network consisted of around 1100 km of rails. The total length of the railways is somewhat larger (~1364 km) as the existing railway length does not count double-track and single-track sections or trunk lines and also does not account for railways being under construction.

Of the around 1364 km of railways in July 2017, 37 km were fully operational (the Addis Ababa Light Rail), while 656 km in Ethiopia and around 100 km in Djibouti were in Trial service. This railway of total 756 km length, the Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway between Addis Ababa and Djibouti has been announced to become operational in October 2017, but if it becomes operational a bit later, it wouldn't be a surprise. Two more railways are under construction, the Awash–Hara Gebeya Railway with 389 km length, and the Hara Gebeya–Mek'ele Railway with 216 km in length. The Awash–Hara Gebeya Railway will see first test runs on its first 270 km between Awash and Kombolcha starting in August 2017 while the construction of the other railway has not been progressed enough to allow test runs.

It is unlikely for the next years (but not completely impossible), that the railway network in Ethiopia will see extensions between more cities and destinations.

Railway specifications[edit]

In general, the railway specifications are based on the Chinese National Railway Class 2 Standard.[12][42] However, with explicit demand by the Ethiopian Railway Corporation, some changes were made and adapted, which do not fit the Chinese standard.

The railway characteristics were first specified and used for the Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway and in many cases had to be used for other railways as well to keep the installations compatible with each other. Trains should be able to use different railways without having to switch locomotives (as an example). The most straightforward example of compatibility is, that there is no break-of-gauge. The first railway was standard gauge, so all following railways also had to be standard gauge. The power supply had to be the same for all railways, the train protection system as well.

In the following, common features and specifications of all railways are shown. If there are differences between railways, this is indicated by a range given for values:

Major railway infrastructure[edit]

Major pieces of infrastructure are dry ports for heavy containers, for imports and exports. A few strategic ones are connected to the rail network:

Directly north of Kombolcha, the railway will get a few major infrastructure elements, in particular an operations centre for the entire network. There is the ERC main depot for rolling stock, the main maintenance workshops and also the main logistics center of the whole Railway Network of Ethiopia.

The ERC bought a rescue train for emergency operations (e.g. a heavy rail crane for emergency operations), that will be stationed at the Kombolcha workshops. The facilities will include eight rail tracks within the operations centre which will have a size of 15.000 m2.

Besides the main rail depot at Kombolcha, another depot exists in Addis Ababa (Indode) and in Dire Dawa, where METEC is located, a large state owned company which in its Dire Dawa subsidiary is dedicated to the construction and maintenance of rail goods wagons.

Railway stations[edit]

Apart from the major railway infrastructure (freight yards, dry ports) considered to handle freight trains, the railways also faeture railway stations for passenger trains. These railway stations along the railways most often have a single platform for passengers to enter or to leave trains. These platforms allow access without having the need to use stairs. Some have two platforms connected through a footbridge above the overhead catenary system. 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, railway stations with two platforms have the space for two or three platform lines. All platforms are around 330 meters long.

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 station buildings of the Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway shows some sort of architectural eclecticism including Ethiopian elements with some Chinese interpretation and rounded elements. The railway station buildings on the Awash–Hara Gebeya Railway are rather functional and rectangular.

Rolling stock[edit]

To meet modern railway standards, all the rolling stock dedicated to rail transport in Ethiopia has been designed and adapted to the harsh environmental conditions of Ethiopia. Braking performance has been improved to account for the differences in altitude. As temperatures and solar radiation in the area can vary greatly between night and day and from high mountain (>2400 meters) to the sea, in order to prevent aging caused by thermal shock and by high ultraviolet light in the plateau environment, all components — rubber, cables and others — have been specifically designed, using laminated glass for blocking more than 90% of UV penetration.[citation needed]

All the rolling stock belongs to the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC) and was imported from China between 2014-2016.


All locomotives were imported from China. 41 available electric locomotives are designated to haul freight trains and to perform freight handling, while only three electric locomotives serve passenger transport services. In addition, a number of diesel locomotives are there to provide services off the main line.

Type Manufacturer –
Quantity Ethiopian Designation Operation mode Max. speed
Electric locomotive CRRCHXD1C 3 ERP 0001 – ERP 0003
(ERP: Ethiopian Railways Passenger)
Passenger transport
(main line)
120 7200 [14][45][46][47]
Electric locomotive CRRC – HXD1C 32 ERF 0001 – ERF 0032
(ERF: Ethiopian Railways Freight)
Freight transport
(main line)
120 7200 [45][14][46]
Diesel locomotive CRRC – DF4DH 3 (DF4D 418-0xx)
(not owned by Ethiopian Railways)
Freight transport
(main line)
100 2940 [14][48][49][50]
Diesel locomotive CRRC – DF10DDB
(export version: CKD3A)
6 ERS 0001 – ERS 0006
(ERS: Ethiopian Railways Switcher)
(Port of Doraleh – Nagad)
100 1873 [51]

The locomotives were derived from the platforms mentioned in the table above. The electric locomotives have different liveries. The ERP locomotives come with the Ethiopian national colors (green-yellow-red), the ERF locomotives replace the green by blue (red-yellow-blue), the DF4DH-derived locomotives are sky-blue while the ERS switchers are entirely yellow with one horizontal stripe in the national colors. All locomotives have been adapted to the harsh climatic conditions of Ethiopia and provide air-conditioning built in for the engineer.

The platform data for the HXD1C indicate, that the available power of 7200 kW is also available for regenerative braking. Two freight locos can couple and can do two-locomotive train control with heavy freight trains for railway slopes > 0.9 %. In addition, the electric locomotives hauling passenger trains come with a dedicated power supply transformator to provide the necessary amount electric power for the air-conditioning / heating units of the passenger cars under the extreme climatic conditions of Ethiopia.[47]

The diesel locomotives in particular were modified to work at different altitudes (from sea level to beyond 2400 meters) and to work under very high temperatures in excess of 50 °C in the desert areas of northeastern Ethiopia and Djibouti. They have a special computer-adjusted working mode of the diesel engine under such high temperature. In addition, the diesel locos have two different dust filters integrated in the air supply of the diesel engine in order to be able to work in especially dusty desert conditions.[49][51]

Passenger cars (coaches)[edit]

Passenger coaches were built on the China Railway model 25G design, decorated with national Ethiopian colors. All passenger cars based on the 25G platform offer two toilettes, two washing dishes and boilers for hot water.

Type Manufacturer –
Quantity Ethiopian Designation Travel Class Max. speed
Seats / Berths Configuration Notes
Chair car (Coach) CRCYZ25G 20 HSC 0001 – HSC 0020
(HSC: Hard Seat Car)
Economy Class 120 118 seats 3+2 seats per row
Couchette car CRC – YW25G 4 HBC 0001 – HBC 0004
(HBC: Hard Berth Car)
Economy Class 120 66 berths 11 compartments
(no doors)
Couchette car (Sleeper) CRC – RW25G 4 SBC 0001 – SBC 0004
(SBC: Soft Berth Car)
Business Class 120 36 berths 9 compartments
(with doors)
Dining car CRC – CA25G 2 DPC 0001 – DPC 0002
(DPC: Diner Pick Car)
--- 120 50 seats 13 tables + galley

Each passenger car shows its code near the four entrance doors, consisting of three letters and a 4-digit number (for example HSC 0017 or DPC 0002). Hard is the most basic coach design of China Railways. A translation of Hard into Economy Class is most appropriate. Because the Ethiopian HSC cars are almost identical to the Chinese Hard seat cars, travelling guides for trains in China might also be helpful for Ethiopian trains.[52] Ethiopian Railways does not offer true Sleeping car services nor does Ethiopian Railways offer Business Class seats or First class travel. But it is possible to make a reservation for a single person, which includes a whole lockable compartment in Soft Berth Cars (4 berths per compartment), which makes the compartment a Solo soft sleeper.

Goods wagons[edit]

Goods wagons were built by Baotou Beifang ChuangYe Co. Ltd (BFCY) in China. Of the in total 1100 goods wagons of Ethiopian Railways, almost 530 of them, were assembled in Ethiopia by the sub-contrator Metals and Engineering Corporation in Dire Dawa. All others were assembled in China.[53][54]

The information on the wagons shown in the table below was outlined by an Ethiopia Railway Assessment.as part of a Logistics Capacity Assessment (LCA) by the World Food Programme.[23]

Type Part Quantity Goods to be transported
Flat wagon NW5 550 International containers of all sorts and road trailers
Box wagon PW2 220 Goods that should not be exposed to sun, rain, snow - which are boxed and bagged
paper products, appliance auto parts, beverages,...
Gondola CW3
130 Building materials: steel, coal, core, wood, ...
Tank wagon GW2 110 Liquids such as fuel (gasoline, diesel etc.)
Covered hopper KW2 20 Materials (grain, flour, fertilizer, salt, sugar, clay lime) to be weather-protected
Open hopper KW3 20 Bulk materials such as coal, coke, stone, sand, ores, gravel, scrap material etc.
Lumber racks NW6 20 Lumber and wooden building material
Car transporter
(double deck)
NW7 20 Transporting vehicles and automobiles,
motorail services in connection with passenger trains
Refrigerated van BW1 10 Fresh and perishable food staffs such as fish, meat, vegetable, fruits etc.

Metre Gauge Railway[edit]

Remnants of the old non-electrified single track metre gauge Ethio–Djibouti Railway still exist. While the railway was officially decommissioned at the end of 2016, an intact section of the railway with its rolling stock might still exist for 100 km between Dire Dawa to beyond Adigale. This might be useful to develop some tourism but is otherwise not economically relevant anymore.

Apart from the metre gauge remnants, all railways in Ethiopia are standard gauge railways, mostly single track and mostly electrified.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Running out of Steam". threreporterethiopia.com. 28 January 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Ethiopia to outsource construction, management of planned railway projects". fanabc.com. 27 March 2017. 
  3. ^ a b "Bill proposes liberalization of rail transport". thereporterethiopia.com. 24 June 2017. 
  4. ^ Meseret, Elias (5 October 2016). "Ethiopia's new coastal rail link runs through restive region". Associated Press. 
  5. ^ a b 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. 
  6. ^ "Ligne C: de Nazareth à Dilla (300 km) en projet". Jean-Pierre Crozet. 2013. 
  7. ^ "The National Railway Network of Ethiopia (NRNE)". ERC. 16 September 2011. 
  8. ^ "Ethiopia-Djibouti electric railway line opens". BBC News. 5 October 2016. Accessed 3 November 2016. [1]
  9. ^ "Ethiopia – Djibouti high speed railway finally completed". CGTN. 17 January 2017. 
  10. ^ "Grand plans for Djibouti". Port of Djibouti SA / World Port Development. April 2017. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f "Information about Standard Gauge Railway" (PDF). Uganda Ministry of Works, Transportation and Communication. 7 April 2017. See also New Vision: http://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1450522/information-about-standard-gauge-railway 
  13. ^ "Work starts on delayed Ethiopian project". Railjournal. 27 February 2015. 
  14. ^ a b c d e Molinari, Michele (June 3, 2015). "Ethiopia turns big plans into reality". International Railway Journal. Archived from the original on June 24, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Evaluation of Alternative Track Alignments on Whole Life Cost of Lot 11 Section of the Awash-Weldiya Railway Line" (PDF). AAiT. 2015. 
  16. ^ "Turkish construction giant eyes more Africa projects after Ethiopia, Tanzania railways". Daily Sabah. 1 August 2017. 
  17. ^ "Foundation stone laid for northern Ethiopia line". Railway Gazette. 25 February 2015. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn laid a ceremonial foundation stone for the Mek'ele – Weldiya/Hara Gebeya railway project on February 18. The 220 km electrified mixed-traffic route is being built by China Communications Construction Co under a US$1·5bn contract. 
  18. ^ "Tigray Regional State – Five Years (2010/11-2014/15) Growth & Transformation Plan" (PDF). Tigray Region Plan and Finance Bureau. September 2011. 
  19. ^ "Sporadic skirmish reported throughout the Ethiopia-Eritrea border". Tigrai Online. 26 July 2017. 
  20. ^ "Tigray Economics and Ethiopian Politics". ECADF. 22 March 2013. 
  21. ^ "Ethiopia: Urgent need for aggressive foreign policy to pursue and safeguard regional interest". Tigrai Online. 19 July 2017. 
  22. ^ "Betray Not Tigrai Again!". Tigrai Online. 10 June 2017. 
  23. ^ a b "Ethiopia Railway Assessment". World Food Programme. 24 February 2017. 
  24. ^ "Ethiopia: Mekelle-Woldya railway project at a Standstill". hornaffairs.com. 13 May 2017. 
  25. ^ "የወልዲያ/ ሃራ ገበያ- መቀሌ የባቡር ፕሮጀክት ግንባታ 46 በመቶ መድረሱ ተገለጸ፡፡" (in Amharic). Ethiopian Railway Corporation. 14 July 2017. 
  26. ^ "Danakil Potash Project, Ethiopia". mining-technology.com. June 2017. 
  27. ^ "Djibouti: Construction of Tadjourah Port Kicks Off". dredgingtoday.com. 18 December 2012. 
  28. ^ "Port of Tadjourah". Djibouti Ports Authority. 18 July 2017. 
  29. ^ "Feasibility Study Complete - Entering Pre-Construction Stage" (PDF). Allana Corp. March 2013. 
  30. ^ "Exim Bank approves $300 million loan to Ethiopia". The New Indian Express. 15 June 2013. 
  31. ^ "Semera – Tadjoura Railway Tender Postponed Again for the Fifth Time". Addis Fortune. 26 January 2015. 
  32. ^ "Infrastructure". Circum Minerals Ltd. June 2017. 
  33. ^ "Allana Potash" (PDF). Allana Potash Corp. 8 May 2014. 
  34. ^ a b c "ጠ/ሚ ኃይለማርያም ደሳለኝ ስለ ባቡር ኔትወርክ በዓድዋ ያደረጉት ንግግር, approximately: Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn: Speech on railroad network" (in Amharic). hornaffairs.com. 26 April 2017. 
  35. ^ "IMF Country Report No. 13/308" (PDF). IMF. October 2013. 
  36. ^ "There is a growing anxiety at the top tier of the Administration of the PM …". Addis Fortune. 16 July 2017. 
  37. ^ a b "The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia : 2016 Article IV Consultation-Press Release". IMF. 4 October 2016. 
  38. ^ a b "Chinese Company Begins Dire Dawa Port Construction". Addis Fortune. 28 March 2017. 
  39. ^ "Absence of trunk lines, operational depot hinders launch of fuel train transport". thereporterethiopia.com. 12 November 2016. 
  40. ^ "Dr. Getachew resigns, reasons for leaving unknown". diretube.com. 29 May 2017. 
  41. ^ a b "Joint ventures to be focus this fiscal year". Capital Ethiopia. 27 July 2017. 
  42. ^ "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. 
  43. ^ a b c d e 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). 
  44. ^ "Zhejiang company provides control system for Ethiopia-Djibouti railway". United S&T. 2 November 2016. TÜV Rheinland certified United's BiLOCK interlocking control system as a full ETCS-2 SIL4 system 
  45. ^ a b "Addis Abeba - Djibouti electric locomotives ordered". Railway Gazette. 30 June 2014. 
  46. ^ a b "Electric Locomotive for Ethiopia". CRRC. 1 March 2016. 
  47. ^ a b "CRRC locomotives run along Ethiopia'- Djibouti railway". CRRC. 19 October 2016. 
  48. ^ "Some like it hot". Railway Gazette. 13 March 2012. 
  49. ^ a b "CNR Dalian locomotives exported to Ethiopia". Railway Gazette. 22 March 2014. 
  50. ^ "Diesel loco. for Ethiopia". CRRC. 25 February 2016. 
  51. ^ a b "中国火车头驶上“非洲屋脊” 最高时速达100公里, approximately: Chinese locomotive on the "Roof of Africa" at a speed of 100 km/h" (in Chinese). Southwest Jiaotong University - China High-speed Rail Development Strategy Research Center. 20 November 2015. 
  52. ^ "Hard Seats & Soft Seats". Train China Guide. 
  53. ^ "Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway Line to Start Early 2016". DP World Doraleh. Capital. 4 October 2015. 
  54. ^ "METEC begins assembling railway carriages". Ethiopian News Agency. 16 February 2016. 

External links[edit]