Once upon a time, there was a railway line linking Addis Ababa with Djibouti. Haphazard and unmaintained, the route fell out of service and land-locked Ethiopia lost one of its most important lifelines to the sea.
But it's nothing a little bit of Chinese money can't fix. Construction has begun on a new and improved service linking the two cities.
The railway line between Addis Ababa and Djibouti was one of the great colonial undertakings. With permission from Emperor Menelik II, the grandly named Compagnie Impériale des Chemins de Fer Ethiopiens (the Imperial Railway Company of Ethiopia) began working on the track in 1896. After 21 years, a couple of bankruptcies and the construction of an entirely new city (the modern Dire Dawa), it was finally complete.
For decades, it was a lifeline for landlocked Ethiopia; the only efficient, reasonably reliable access to a port. And yet it was allowed to crumble, eventually forcing the trains to a halt.
Two years ago, when I visited, the beautiful old station in Dire Dawa, which had been the hub of the Addis-Djibouti line, was disused and dilapidated, its walls used instead as a makeshift projector screen for football matches....