Addis Ababa Light Rail - a Jewel of the Developmental Stride


Addis Ababa Light Rail - a Jewel of the Developmental Stride

Addisu Muluken  2-3-15

Testing of the Addis Ababa Light Railway Transit trains was officially commenced last week in a colorful ceremony in the presence of senior government officials, diplomats, other dignitaries as well as residents here in Ethiopia’s capital.

Test rides with officials and residents on board of the rails were conducted on 9 km distance between Kality and Meskel Square. The main objective of testing the rail transport is to make sure that the rail system functions properly and that it is safe and secure to go into transportation service fully.

It was a historic happening for it is the first in more than hundred years and is one of Ethiopia’s mega development projects in the country’s five-year growth and transformation plan and putting an end to all the talks of those who have routinely been claiming that the project is a pipe dream.

The first railway was constructed in Ethiopia with the purpose of linking the capital with the country's east coast and was conceived during the time of Menelik II. After countless negotiations with French, the agreement was reached on March 9, 1894 and the plan was to build the railway from coast, Djibouti, to Entoto via Harar and then to the White Nile via Kaffa according to Pankhurst (2006).

The Swiss and French Engineers jointly formed a company in Ethiopia called Imperial Ethiopian Railway that became operational in 1917 under a new name: Ethio-French Railway.

After more than a hundred years later, a new history is on the making.

The 475 million dollar Addis Ababa Light Rail Transit project, which was started in 2012 as a joint venture between the Ethiopian government and Chinese companies, is an electrified light rail transit system with two lines of total length of 32 km. The two lines which are the North-South and East-West lines use common track of about 2.7-kms with a Standard Gauge of 1.435 meters and double track for the whole route.

The two line rail tracks stretching from Ayat Village to Tor Hailoch passing through Megenagna, Legehar and Mexico are 17.35-kms long. From North to South, a 16.9-kms rail track will pass through Menelik Square, Merkato, Lideta, Legehar, Meskel Square, Gotera and Kality. The two directions will have a common track of about 2.8-kms. Out of the total 32-kms main line of the phase one project, some 7.6-kms is covered with bridges which would be constructed in six locations.

The Addis Ababa Light Rail is now on the way to start operations with the 41 trains operating on 75 volts of electricity. In total, the train will be able to carry 317 passengers at a time and travel at 50Km an hour, although it has a maximum speed of 70Km per hour.

One of the special features of the Project is that it performs on steep gradient and sharp curves and the fact that it is environmentally friendly as it reduces carbon dioxide emission.

The railway is said to be relatively free of noise and air pollution, uninterrupted by power outages and also equipped with handicap friendly technology. The Railway will utilize electronic ticketing system.

The trains will have a capacity to carry 317 passengers at a time and arrive at stations every six minutes. The speed of the trains is estimated to about 70 km/h.

The design stipulates that there will be 20 overpasses along both routes, of which six will have major roundabouts. These major roundabouts would have some basic underground construction works that must be done carefully. It will have some three thousand meter wide concrete walls to be constructed.

Power traction works of the West-East Route of the light rail transit from Megenagna to Ayat include installation of electric poles and overhead wires to power the light rail vehicles as well as construction of traction sub-stations, nine on each of the east-west and north-south directions of the transit.

The light rail will rely on 15 kvs of power supplied mainly from overhead wires. Power cuts will not be a concern for the smooth operation of the transit as the LRT will have a dedicated power supply through a grid system.

The rail network connectivity in Addis Ababa will not only increase the beauty and make Addis Ababa competitive internationally by enabling it to have modern transportation system but also facilitate peoples mobility and trade. The construction of Addis Ababa's Light Rail will give Addis its first mass transport system, transforming mobility in a city where most of the people travel either by buses and taxis or on foot.

As it is observed in developed countries, railway transportation is becoming a reliable and regular form of transport for people and goods. In addition, train travel brings much safety, convenience and comfort to passengers than other means of transportation systems.

However, in Ethiopia, so far most passengers use road transports. Currently, there are vast movement of the people, huge import and export of goods which are not efficiently supported by railway transport. Railway transport, apart from facilitating transport need to support transit trade.

In that context the Addis Light Rail is expected to be of an important instrument as it will reduce the travel time from the peripheries the city to the center to less than 2 or 3 minutes with forty one trains rolling down the tracks to transport 60 thousand passengers per hour.

Indeed, the project could bridge the gap between supply and demand in the city's transport sector by offering more convenient and comfortable option to passengers through environment friendly mode of transport.

Moreover, the project helped the nation to apply world's first railway technology. The country has taken advantage of the rich experience and expertise from those who advanced in railway infrastructure development. This by itself is a big achievement. Hence, the government has been making effort to transfer knowledge and technology by sending professionals to China and through practical lesson from Chinese experts working here. So, the next round railway infrastructural development tasks would be performed by local capacity with limited assistance from partners.

Indeed, the project was an opportunity for major technology and skill transfer to the country. 257 professionals had been sent to China to acquire the latest skills and knowledge on railway technology in trainings as rail masters (train drivers), technicians and those who will work on operations, All of the trainees have now completed came back home concluding their nine months training this month. Of the total trainees, some 136 are trained as train masters, 40 train dispatch and control, 70 in train maintenance and eight train infrastructure development.

Other crucial parts of the project are still ongoing. The South African firm Arup South Africa is preparing a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) master plan for ten of the key stations that are part of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system being built in Addis Ababa. The firm is an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers and technical specialists that makes up the heart of the creative force of many of the world's most prominent projects in the built environment and industry.

It has been awarded a contract by the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC) to illustrate what activities, uses and yield can be created around the new stations within a 400 meter radius.

Within this walkable node it needs to assess if each place and loci can accommodate appropriate use and bulk development. This forms part of the regeneration of a 125-year-old city with over 3 million people. The firm will visualize these nodes and illustrate potential future development, culminating in a broad based bankable approach, cognizant of costs and the catalytic potential these nodes could have on the city.

As an expert of the firm elaborated to media:

"This is a typical African city and each precinct has its own unique requirements and sense of place...the framework must therefore look to short, medium and long-term approaches that allow for flexibility and that can change over time as the node develops and matures...using a multi-disciplinary approach, within a tight schedule of five exciting step forward in the future of city making".

The speedy completion of Addis Rail way project was a product of strong political will and commitment from the government, the technical and the residents of Addis Ababa. As Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalgn pointed out at the pre-testing ceremony held Sunday: Addis Light Railway Project has been undertaken through the relentless effort of the government.

The residents of Addis Ababa have been patiently waiting for the launch of the railway despite the many transport problems they had to face owing to the construction of the project, high traffic jam has been observed on Addis routes which tempted patience of the city residents. As the Prime Minister noted,“Here, I need to thank residents of the city for the patience they have been showing and their contributions for project undertaking”.

Indeed, a lot has been accomplished in terms of expanding and upgrading the transport sector so as to meet transport demand and alleviate the complicated social and economic problems the peoples of Ethiopia had for a long period of time.

The Addis Ababa Light Railway Transit project, despite its significance, is not the only mega project launched to transform Ethiopia's economy and advance the social-economic stride.

With regard to railway construction, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway project has been under construction with special attention from the governments of both countries.

With the China Railway Engineering Corporation building the 317km segment from Sebeta to Meiso, the 339km from Meiso to the border town of Dawale, and the third 100kms to the port of Doraleh, it has been reported that The Sebeta-Meiso section of the project is progressing and Seventy per cent of the construction has been completed, while the rest is progressing as per plan. Djibouti also launched construction of the 100 kms line within its territory last year..

The Addis Ababa Djibouti line will have 17 major stations and pass through Debre Zeit, Adama, Metehara and Dire Dawa. Of which, the 107kms from Addis Ababa to Adama will be double track and the remaining 549 kms will be single track.

It is to be recalled that the old 781 kms railway line from Dire Dawa to Djibouti that had been maintained and started operations last year.

Nonetheless, It is known that so far In our country the dominant mode of transport is road transport, having a share of 90% in transporting passenger and cargo transports across the country. In view of this and to respond the high demand of transport in the country, a large construction of roads is being conducted throughout the country both by the Ethiopian Roads Authority and other government entities. In line with this, private participation is also being encouraged to be evolved in the road expansion. And by both efforts a distinct performance is achieved to create facilitation of roads and road transport, liaising local towns, peoples, industries, and liaising with neighboring countries for import export facilitation in the country.

The government has given special attention to the development of the sector since 1992. The Road Sector Development Program (RSDP, 1997–2007) has two principal objectives: to reduce transport costs on the road network and to create road access for the rural population and the drought-affected areas. The program has two phases. The first phase was implemented between 1997 and 2002. Its targets and achievements are shown below.

The total classified road network increased by about 40% from 1997 to 2002, much of the increase being in regional roads. The road density increased from 21 km per 1000 sq. km in 1994 to 30 km per 1000 sq. km in 2002.

By 2002, the total road network had reached 33,297 km, of which 4,053 km (12%) were paved and the remaining 29,244 km (88%) gravel. Of the present classified road network, about 16,617 km are considered part of the main road network, administered by the Federal Government, and the remaining 16,680 km “rural roads”, under the Regional Rural Roads Authorities.

During the period of the Growth and Transformation Plan, more than 11,000 km of road has been built and maintained over the GTP period, out of the planned 14,000 km, marking an 81% overall performance.

In general, the activities undertaken over the last 16 years in the sector enabled the country to raise the road coverage to 70 per cent. The total length of road in the country has reached over 86,000-kms due to the enormous investment and commitment of the EPRDF led government.

In the past years Ethiopia invested more than 142 billion birr in the road sector. Despite what the detractors routinely claim, the main source was not foreign donation. Of all the total amount spent, 77 percent was by the government. One of the major works in that regard is the two roads linking the Addis Ababa-Adama Expressway with Addis Ababa City into two directions.

The other mode of transport is the Ethiopian Air Lines – serving people local and abroad, with a motto Africa's link to the world. This airline remains as one of the best airline in Africa and continues to be a reputable enterprise in the world. It serves in more than 25 airports locally and above 48 international links such as in Africa, Europe, Middle East and America. With the aim to meet the increasing demand of the people it is expanding its links with the world through its available aircrafts and additional leased jets like the air bus, which is recently in use. It has a capacity of 364 people to carry. Being proactive to the coming fierce competition the airline is changing itself with the world progress to remain lucrative and viable enterprise.

Ethiopian Airlines operates and manages Malawi Airlines after a deal signed in 2013 and has signed a memorandum of understanding with South Sudan to help set up a national carrier for a country which won independence in 2011. The Ethiopian carrier has a deal too with ASKY, the West African airline, whose shareholders also include the ECOWAS regional bloc of countries and a number of banks.

Ethiopian currently has a fleet of 77 jets, including 10 787-8 Dreamliners. It was the first airline to fly the Dreamliner commercially, has three more on order and wants to order more, including a larger version of the 787.

The government owned Ethiopian Air Lines serving people local and abroad remains as one of the best airline in Africa and continues to be a reputable enterprise in the world. The Ethiopian Airlines serves more than 25 airports locally and above 48 international links such as in Africa, Europe, Middle East and America.

There is also another transport - the shipping transport. Ethiopia's marine transport is serving across the world. It continues to work in import export and coastal carrier services through its 8 ships being competent in the stiff competition of the globe.

It has also bought 9 new ships including oil tankers to strengthen the economic benefit it derives from the sector. In addition to this, the marine and transit service enterprise, as a government entity, performs cargo handling, harbor facilities and services. In line with this, private transit companies also offer similar services in the sub sector.

In general, as the Minister of Transport summed it up last week:

“By the commitment of our government and direct participation of the public, our country has been registering fast economic growth for the past ten years or so. Thus, it enabled the public become beneficiary and contributed to reduce poverty at all levels.

In the nation's development journey, the transport sector has decisive role in political, economic and political activities. In relation to this, the government has given special attention to the sector and executing multifaceted tasks.

The government has allocated huge budget to make road accessible equitably, build airports, assist the Ethiopian airlines to be competitive at international market, develop shipping lines and inland port services through giving special attention to serve import and export trade."



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