THE country’s New Year was only marked on September 12, and it is already turning out to be a good one for Ethiopians—as scores queued up for hours Sunday to catch a ride on the first inaugural service of the Addis Metro—the country’s, and sub-Saharan Africa’s, first light rail system.
Construction of the much-anticipated 32-kilometre line in the capital city ended in January, and the $474 million project has been in testing since, in addition to sorting right of way concerns.
It is expected to carry 15,000 people per hour in one direction, meaning it could attain four times that in all directions, with a projected top speed of 70km/hr. Authorities hope it will make commuting easier for Addis Ababa’s population of nearly 4 million.
The green trams will from October operate on the city’s East-West route, while those coloured blue are now shuttling between north and south, daily from 0600hrs to 2200hrs. Even the tickets are colour-coded, depending on the distance to be travelled, and the price. Fares could range up to $0.5, which observers say reflects heavy government subsidies.
The rail tramcars rely on power supplied mainly from overhead wires, with authorities saying it would have its own dedicated grid, including four substations to supply 160MW of power.
Each of the 39 stations across the service have their own names, while a network of alleyways—including 12 escalators and 22 elevators, will direct commuters to the various railcars.
The transport system was built over three years by the China Railway Group Limited after the Ethiopian government secured 85% of funding from the Export-Import Bank of China.
China will also train the drivers and maintenance staff, while another Chinese company put together the power system.
Ethiopia, with a population of 94 million, is projected by the IMF to grow at 8% in 2015-16, the second-fastest pace on the continent. The Horn of Africa nation has drawn a lot of debate for the shape and speed of its ‘developmental state’.
Host of projects
It is home to host of infrastructure programmes, including highways and the 6,000MW Grand Renaissance dam, the world’s seventh- biggest hydropower plant. The state-led economy is increasingly opening up to foreign investment to build roads and railways, driving the robust growth.
The country will decide whether to issue a second Eurobond to fund infrastructure projects after parliament reconvenes this month, the Finance ministry said last week. In December, Ethiopia raised $1 billion in its debut sale of Eurobonds.
Last week the country was host to a delegation of American business scouting for opportunities—as part of the largest US government-led trade mission to Africa yet as the Barack Obama government seeks to cement bilateral ties.
Africa’s only other light rail systems are found in North Africa—including in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
Nigeria is also working to get its Lagos Rail Mass Transit working amid delays following a missed September 2014 deadline, adding more pain to Africa’s most populous city.
At the beginning of the 19th century about 40 networks were in planning, but with the exception of Egypt, all were abandoned to make way for cars.
There are about 13 light rail networks in Africa, with two now in construction. Twenty kilometres of light rail are estimated by experts to create the equivalent of 4,000 jobs.
South Africa operates the higher capacity 80-km mass rapid Gautrain which was completed in June 2012.
Next month the South African city of Cape Town will host an annual African public transport meeting to take stock of trends and challenges in meeting the urban transport needs of the continent.