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First urban commuter train in sub-Saharan Africa launched in Ethiopia

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Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from Global Information Network

( — A brand-new gleaming green and white urban commuter train was launched this week in the capital Addis Ababa. It is the first fully electrified train service in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ethiopia rolls out first urban commuter rail line.
Ethiopia rolls out first urban commuter rail line.

The $470 million Addis Light Rail project was mostly funded by China’s Exim Bank. A delegation of Chinese officials stood at attention at the launch.

Hundreds of people waited excitedly for a ride on the train’s maiden voyage which is expected to reduce significantly the capital’s traffic congestion. Fares for the new train will run 20 to 40 cents per trip, four times cheaper than the local bus or minibus.

The train will run 16 hours a day, including weekends. It is expected to carry 15,000 people an hour in one direction, with a top speed of 44 miles per hour. Only one line is completed, another should be ready in a month.

China will train the drivers and maintenance staff, while another Chinese company will put together the power system.

Ethiopia, with a population of 94 million, is projected by the IMF to grow at 8 percent in 2015-16, the second-fastest pace on the continent. The Horn of Africa nation has drawn much debate for the shape and speed of its ‘developmental state’.

The tramway is designed to relieve the mounting strain on the city’s roads, where up to now public transport for the 5 million-and- growing population has consisted of aged buses and so-called “blue donkeys” — a network of cramped, polluting minibuses.

“I have had many problems with the blue donkeys, with the long lines and the fights to get a seat. I hope this will no longer be a problem,” said Tigist Dekele, a young woman who lives in the city.

Ethiopia’s transport minister, Workneh Gebeyehu, said the tramway project would also boost Ethiopia’s bid to make the city — already the seat of the African Union — the undisputed continental hub.

“This is a sign of modernity. This is a very modern train that will serve the capital city of Africa. We are very proud of that,” he said. “The light rail is not for commercial purposes. Tickets are very cheap. It will serve the people with low incomes.”

Authorities have also promised the scheme will not be beset by power cuts, with a separate power grid set up to feed the lines.


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