20 December 2017

Ethiopia: Ethio-Djibouti Standard Gauge Rail in Final Preparation Phase

Photo: The Ethiopian News Agency
The launch of the Ethiopian-Djibouti railway (file photo).

The newly named Ethio-Djibouti Standard Gauge Rail Transport S.C revealed that the Ethio-Djibouti railway is undergoing its final trial before commencing services soon.

The first standard gauge electrified railroad on the continent, once fully operational, is expected to provide link to the country's industrial parks and dry ports through a cost effective, reliable transport.

Speaking to 'The Ethiopian Herald', Dereje Tefera, Communications Director with Ethiopian Railways Corporation, said that while the construction work of the project is completed and inaugurated, it does not mean it will start services as there are final preparation work that need to be attended to. Any train railway projects should pass through these tests and hoops before becoming fully operational, he added.

The final preparation work involves trial and administrative works. Dereje indicated that the final trail of the Ethio-Djibouti Railway involved high speed and heavy load tests for both the freight and passenger locomotives, which have designed speed of 80 and 120 km per hour respectively. Once operational, the freight trains can at a time move up to 3500 tons, while the passenger locomotives can move up to 2800 commuters.

The final run should be done by an independent transport regulatory body, in this case by a Chinese company, and issue a certificate to green light full operations, although it is possible to provide full service in the current state, the Director pointed out. "We have been transporting wheat so far, and we are thinking about giving a free passenger service during the trial period, until we become certified and start operations."

In terms of the administrative issues, the final preparation works consisted of assigning the share and role between the two countries in running the company/operation. It was agreed that Ethiopia will have 75 percent share, while Djibouti will have 25 percent, with three members of the four man board represented by Ethiopia. "Ethiopia's Transport Minister Ahmed Shide is assigned as the Chairman of the Board."

In addition to this, Dereje disclosed, as it is a cross-border transport project, there were discussions and negotiations in terms of synchronizing the economic interest and benefits of both countries while there were common border issues to consider. "We have reached agreement with the Djibouti government in relation to visa and customs issues, and we are working on setting tariff per passenger and kilometer."

He also noted that when it comes to checkpoints, the agreement was to install a one stop customs inspection or One Stop Border Posts at Addis Ababa (Lebu station), Adama, Dire Dawa, Dawalle, and immigration personnel will be assigned in these stations. "This scheme will be tested during the trial commercial testing phase."

Given that transport is the blood veins of any economy, an electrified cross-border train service yields obvious economic benefits to the parties involved. On top of reducing the transit and travel time significantly (the freight transit time, for instance, will be between 10 to 12 hours, slashing it down from two or three days), and providing people/economic mobility supported by high velocity transport, Dereje mentioned other economic benefits including, faster goods and commodities back and forth, curbs product delays, reduced demurrage fees, improved regional economic integration and people to people relation.

The Director also emphasized the project provides link for the country's industrial parks and dry ports that are situated in that part/corridor of the country with international sea and outlet as one of the major economic benefit. "Adama and Dire Dawa Industrial Parks, Awash Oil Depot, Modjo dry port can be interlinked through rail-lines".

Asked about concerns of power shortage and expensive price/tariff for the service, Dereje replied there is no any problem in terms of power. He said that there is a enough power that can take the trains up to 20 km to the nearest traction power station if power outage occurs, and there is also six diesel locomotive that can be used to push-pull standing trains. "Standby power will also be setup."

The 742 km long electrified railway will have 1172 locomotives, of which 1100 are freight wagons, 41 locomotives (35 electric and 6 diesel), and 30 passenger coach with seats, beds and dining room.

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