A two line, 34-km light rail network officially opened in Addis Ababa yesterday. The Ethiopian capital is now home to the first modern tramway to open in Sub-Saharan Africa and is a further example of China’s growing influence on the continent. The tramway was built by the China Railway Engineering Corporation (CREC) at a cost of $475m, 85% of which has been covered by China’s Exim bank. Huawei supplied the telecommunications and fare collection systems. Whilst the power supply has been delivered by China Electric Power Equipment and Technology Co. (CET). This new rail network is a boost to rapidly growing Addis Ababa which has an estimated urban population of over five million.
The Addis Ababa Light Rail Transit (AA-LRT) Project to give it its full name consists of two standard gauge rail lines, the east-west line will extend 17.35 kilometres (10.8 mi), stretching from Ayat Village to Tor Hailoch, and passing through Megenagna, Legehar and Mexico SquareThe north-south line, which will be 16.9 kilometres (10.5 mi) in length, will pass through Menelik II Square, Merkato, Lideta, Legehar, Meskel Square, Gotera and Kaliti. Additionally, two lines will have a common track of about 2.7 km.
Construction on this new light rail line began in 2011 and on the cutting of the ribbon will have the capacity to carry 80,000 passengers an hour across the capital. It’s been designed to help ease the congestion and pollution on the growing streets where public transport has previously consisted of buses and minibuses. Ticket prices have also been set at the low, accessible rate of no more than $0.30.
World Bank figures have shown solid recent growth for Ethiopia, slowly recovering from years of war and natural disaster. Although still one of the world’s poorest countries The economy has experienced strong and broad based growth over the past decade, averaging 10.8% per year in 2003/04 - 2012/13 compared to the regional average of 5.3%. Economic growth brought with it positive trends in reducing poverty, in both urban and rural areas.
Editor’s Comment: State-owned and private Chinese companies have become major investors in Africa over the past 10 years with much of the investment pouring into energy, mining, construction, manufacturing and infrastructure (including rail). Although this money comes with strings attached - it must be spent on Chinese goods or Chinese-built infrastructure and the projects are often run by Chinese staff and with Chinese resources - a factor that does draw some criticism. But with the West unwilling, or simply unable to develop large infrastructure projects in Africa this is a trend unlikely to change in the near future.
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