Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced the cancellation of a plan to construct railway in the northwest Ethiopia.
The Premier made the controversial statement in a town hall meeting in Adwa town last Monday.
In an audio recording obtained by HornAffairs, PM Hailemariam said: “A railway is expensive. It costs about 4 million dollars per kilometer in a plain ground. In the mountainous northern Ethiopia, it costs about 7-8 million dollars per kilometer”. It wasn’t clear how those figures were calculated.
Therefore, Hailemariam said he is uncertain when a railway route might reach the area. Yet, he advised the audience to focus on development, “as your city grows, the train gets closer”. At one point, he suggested it might not happen ”in our life time”.
Hailemariam’s statement, however, contradicts the official line of the government.
The 10-years plan unveiled by the government unveiled in 2010 aimed to build 4,780 km National Railway Network.
According to that plan first published on HornAffairs, the first phase consisted the construction of about 1,800 km railway line in four routes: Addis Ababa to Djibouti, Addis Ababa to the southwestern Bedele, Awash (near Addis Ababa) to Hara Gebeya(Woldya) to the northern city Mekelle, and Hara Gebeya to Assayta to Djibouti.
The second phase was to connect Jimma to Dima (South Sudan border), Ijaji to Nekemet to Assosa to Kimuruk, Mekele to Shire, Fenote selam to Bahir dar to Wereta to Woldia, Wereta to Azazo to Metema and Adama to Indeto to Gassera to Ginir.
However, by 2015, when the first phase was supposed to be completed, the Ethiopian Railway Corporation could only report the near-completion status of the Addis Ababa – Djibouti route, while construction contracts for the Awash – Hara Gebeya(Woldya) – Mekelle and the Hara Gebeya – Assayta railway lines were awarded.
The causes of the under-performance were said to be low institutional capacity and lack of financial sources.
The government quietly downsized its ambitions to 1545 kilometers in the plan for 2016-2020 period. The plan document stated the target for the current period would be “the completion and operationalization of the networks began in the previous plan period and making preparations to launch construction of new railway projects”.
The government also added “public-private partnership” as a source of finance for the sector in its plan.
However, to date, the government did not admit that it was far behind the railway plans, let alone scrapping them. In fact, officials in charge of the railway construction told regional officials and media all plans were in place despite the slow implementation.
Last October, the quasi-official Woyen magazine reported that the second phase plan to connect Mekelle to Shire will be accomplished in the current plan period, while a railway connecting Shire to Sudan will be built in the next plan period after 2020.
Similarly, the magazine claimed in a facebook post, the railway plan connecting Hara Gebeya (Woldya) to Bahir Dar to Sudan border is still in place. The magazine made the statement in response to rumors on social media that the plan has been scrapped.
The website of Ethiopian Railway Corporation continues to display the railway network plan.
However, the Prime Minister suggested that a rail route connecting Mekelle to Shire is an unlikely idea, speaking to a town hall in Adwa town last Monday. However, it would become probable if peace is restored with the northern neighbor Eritrea.
Hailemariam also seemed uncertain about the plan to connect to Sudan through Woldia – Bahir Dar – Metema line.