Ethiopia: Royal Trains Leave La Gare for Palace

The four historical royal wagon trains, which were used to transport the royal family and their cabinet, were relocated to the Jubilee Palace from La Gare.

The trains that were kept out of operation for decades were moved to the Palace in the middle of last week to make space for the construction of 1,680 condominium housing units that are planned by the City Administration.

Two of the trains are presents from Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom to Emperor Haileselassie, while the remaining are gifts from France after the Second World War. The seven-decade-old trains are equipped with facilities including beds, kitchens, toilets and a resting compartment for royal guards.

The trains are placed on rails constructed at a designated area within the compound of the Palace, which will be administering them afterwards. The length of the four train cars range between 15m to 17m. The trains were transported to the Palace by heavy-duty transport trucks.

A month and a half ago, Ethio-Djibouti Railway Organisation, which has been administrating the trains, wrote a letter to the Authority for Research & Conservation of Cultural Heritage and the National Palace Administration. In the letter, the Enterprise requested the two parties move the trains from the construction area.

The Organisation requested the relocation to protect the trains from being damaged during the construction, according to Solomon Eshetu, general manager of Ethio-Djbouti Railway Organization.

The houses are part of the city's plan of building 20,504 condominium housing units for 56 billion Br, which are expected to be completed in two years time. The projects will include 174 blocks of condominiums.

"The contractors began soil testing on December 19, 2019," said Solomon.

The two trains provided by the French government will be returned to their original place at La Gare upon the completion of the projects. The others from the British government will be kept at the Palace for an indefinite period.

La Gare, located at the geographic centre of the capital, serves as a historic memorial for the residents of the capital. The oldest and the first-ever train station in the country with railway lines that extend from Addis Abeba to Djibouti had its headquarters located in this area.

The construction of the railway was completed in 1917 during the reign of Emperor Minilik II. Since then, the train station had been used as a central junction linking the southern and eastern parts of the country with the central highlands.

Kassaye Begashaw (PhD), a lecturer at the archaeology and heritage management department at Addis Abeba University, believes that the relocation of the trains will protect them from potential damage during construction.

"They have to be protected to maintain the original colours and conditions of the trains," Kassaye said.

Kassaye also recommends the Ministry of Culture & Tourism promote the trains as national heritages to increase the flow of tourists into the country, since it helps generate more revenue.

One of the major problems in the sector is that the historical and cultural institutions are kept in poor conditions, since they are managed by the unqualified human resources in the field, according to Kassaye.

"To get more benefit from such cultural heritages, the government should have a clear strategy and policy," he recommended.

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