Ethiopia’s Brunel Dreams Of Plan To Open Up Horn Of Africa With Railway Line

By Kevin Mwanza Published: November 23, 2015, 8:11 am
Getachew Betru, Chief Executive Officer of the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (Image: CNN video)

Getachew Betru left Ethiopia during the harsh years of dictatorship only to return decades later with an engineering degree and a vision to connect the horn of Africa with a fast modern railway line.

As the chief executive of the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC), Betru, launched the first phase of the railway line that now connects land-locked Ethiopia to Djibouti’s port, in late October.

Though the projects is on about 87 percent complete it had to be opened to serve million of Ethiopians in the north facing one of the worst droughts the country of more than 93 million people has ever seen in nearly three decades.

Nearly 8.2 million Ethiopians are facing starvation due to the drought and aid agencies are rushing in help with food and other donations.

“We decided to open the railway early because of the drought, the worst in decades,” Betru, who says he has been christened Ethiopia’s Brunel, after the famous British civil engineer,  told BBC.

According to Xinhua, The 756 km electrified railway that connects the two East African countries was contracted by two Chinese companies, namely China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), and China Railway Group (CREC).

The railway is part of Betru’s plan to connect the entire horn of Africa countries with a vast rail network snaking its way across landlocked Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, to Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya.

There are even plans to link Ethiopia with Somaliland’s underused and underdeveloped Berbera port, 854 kilometers away by road.

Betru dreams that the railway will one day run from the Red Sea in Djibouti all the way across Africa to the Atlantic Ocean.

The railways line is seen as a faster way to deliver humanitarian assistance to the millions of people living off-the grid in Ethiopia and neighboring countries.

“The trains will deliver bulk quantities of food aid very close to drought-affected people. It will do this in a matter of a few hours,” ERC’s technical adviser, Muluken Mesfin, told BBC.

Betru says the train , once operational, will cut the journey between Djibouti’s port and Addis Ababa by more than five hours and increase on logistic efficiency in the region.

“This will save money as well as time,” he said.

The train, travelling at about 120 kilometers per hour, will run parallel to an abandoned Ethio-Djibouti railway, built more than 100 years ago by France for Emperor Menelik.

Chinese built railway line is estimated to cost $3 billion and it starts at sea level in Djibouti, crossing through Ethiopia’s ragged hilly terrain until it reaches Addis Ababa, about 2,500 meters above sea level.

“It is very good sign of the Ethio-Chinese relationship in terms of engaging the contractor company to do such work in the last 36 months,” Betru told Xinhua.


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