Updated: China to build Ethio-Djibouti rail route – And India?

A Chinese firm undertook to construct 320 Kms railway line with Chinese loan.

General Manager of Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC) and Vice President of China Railway Group Limited (China Railway) signed an agreement, on Tuesday, for the construction of the first half of the new Ethiopia-Djibouti railway route in three and half years period.Ethiopia, China sign agreement for construction of the 1st half of Ethiopia-Djibouti railway

Ethiopia has unveiled last year a two-phased plan to construct a 4,850 long railway, with 8 main rail routes and expected to connect about 49 towns, under the purview of the newly established Ethiopian Railway Corporation. (See the map and list of the routes, in this blog, – HERE and HERE)

This route is separate from the century-old railroad that links Addis Ababa, via Dire Dawa, to the port of Djibouti, which was built by French in the early 1900s and owned by Ethio-Djibouti Railway Company. That railroad is being maintained by a European company currently.

A new 656 km long Ethiopia-Djibouti railway route that stretches from Sebeta town, near the Capital Addis Ababa, to the Dewele town, Djibouti border, is one of the planned 8 new railway routes.

China Railway is to build 320 Kms of that route – from Sebeta town to Meiso town. Of which, the first 100 kms from Sebeta upto Adama city with two tracks, which accommodates two trains at a time, and the other one the lower one is only for a single track, according to a senior engineer of Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC).

The new Ethiopia-Djibouti railway project ‘took 8 months of feasibility study by a joint cooperation of Ethiopian, Russian and Chinese experts and the total cost of about 1,193,000,000 bln USD would be covered by long term loan from the Chinese government and an internal budget of the Ethiopian Government’, the Ethiopian Television and Radio Agency reported following the signing ceremony.

However, Bloomberg news reported the total cost is about 1.6 bln USD, citing officials of the Ethiopian Railway Corporation.

The signing ceremony took place at the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Getachew Betru, General Manger of the Ethiopian Railway Corporation, and Zhou Mengbo, China Railway Vice-President, signed the agreement, in the presence of Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Getachew Mengiste, Ethiopian State Minister of Transport, Fekadu Haile, General Manager of the Addis Ababa Roads Authority, Gu Xiaojie, Chinese Ambassador to Ethiopia, and Qian Zhaogang, Commercial Counselor at the Chinese Embassy in Ethiopia, among others.

The v/President of China Railway promised that the ‘project will be given the top priority by the CREC, and will be completed on time with high quality and efficiency without sparing any resources of CREC. Meanwhile, local capacity building will be performed during the construction of the railway’.

The General Manger of the Ethiopian Railway Corporation, Getachew Betru, said that ‘the project is new and the first in its kind in our country and it is vital for the economic growth….the corridor in this project will be connected to the line towards Djibouti in the future, and will have a great role for our export and import activities through the Djibouti port in the future’.


It is not clear how the new agreement with China Railway, and the loan with it, adds up with the pledge made by the Indian Premier last May.

It is to be recalled that India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged 300 million USD for the same project, during his visit to Addis Ababa, on May 25 this year.

In a Press Conference, after his meeting with the Ethiopian Premier Meles Zenawi, PM Manmohan Singh said:

‘India has tried to assist in Ethiopia’s development through capacity building support and offers of lines of credit of more than 700 million US dollars during the last five years. We will further enhance scholarships, training programmes and slots under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme for Ethiopia.

I conveyed to the Prime Minister [Meles Zenawi] our decision to extend an additional line of credit of 300 million US dollars for a regional integration project as committed to the African Union for a new Ethiopia-Djibouti railway.’

Perhaps, the Indian will finance, and build, the rest 300 plus Kms of the new Ethiopia-Djibouti railway route. 

China Railway Group Limited (China Railway) is ‘a super-large integrated construction group that encompasses infrastructure construction, survey, design and consulting services, engineering equipment and component manufacturing, property development and other businesses’, according to the note on the Company’s website.

The website claims that:

‘China Railway Group Limited has 46 subsidiaries, including 28 wholly owned subsidiaries, 15 holding subsidiaries, 4 branch companies and 3 joint venture subsidiaries. In the year of 2005 and 2006, China Railway was the forth and third largest construction company in the world, respectively. In 2007, CREC was ranked 342nd in the Fortune Global 500 companies, and listed the 417th in the World’s 500 Most Influential Brands and the 13th in China’s Top 500 Enterprises.

With the corporate motto of “strive to challenge limits and achieve excellence”, China Railway Group Limited has participated in the construction of all domestic major railway lines and constructed, rebuilt and extended a total length of above 50,000 kilometers, accounting for more than two thirds of total operating length of railway lines constructed in the PRC.
China Railway has participated in the construction of more than 22,660 kilometers of electrified railway lines, accounting for approximately 95% of the total operating length of electrified railway lines in the PRC as at 30 June 2007.

China Railway has also been involved in the construction of more than 4,230 kilometers of bridges, more than 3,900 kilometers of tunnels (excluding subways), 3,400 kilometers expressways and 566 kilometers metropolitan railways. In addition, China Railway has undertaken the construction of and provided construction-related services for more than 230 overseas projects including railway, expressway, highway, bridge, tunnel, building construction, dredging, airport and municipal work projects in more than 55 countries and regions globally since the 1970s.’

It should be recalled that this is the first blog to post the map design and details of the phase I and phase II of the planned railways routes.


Check the Railway archive for previous and upcoming posts.

Daniel Berhane

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