Riding the rails in Ethiopia and Kenya

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Addis Ababa, 28 March 2014 (WIC) - Ethiopia and Kenya are in a race to complete ambitious railway projects, but while Addis Ababa is in a frenzy of construction its East African neighbour may have hit the buffers.


At Meskel Square, in the heart of Addis Ababa, traffic is even more chaotic than usual as cars, buses and pedestrians weave around the 5.5m-high pillars now straddling an eight-lane highway.

Confusion reigns too at Mexico Square to the west and Megenagna round-about to the east – evidence that work on the city's light rail transit (LRT) system is progressing at a phenomenal pace.

Bringing in the resources from the rural areas for processing is a problem. Part of that is transportation costs being high

East Africa is home to a series of promising rail projects, from Kenya's standard gauge line to the railroad linking the Ethiopian capital to the port of Djibouti.

Ethiopia's projects are far more advanced – they benefit from the wholesale support of the government – while Kenya's are lagging behind.

The railway to link South Sudan to the port at Lamu lacks investment, and the development of the new standard gauge line is bogged down in debates about how the contract was awarded.

In Ethiopia, two twin-track lines will bisect Addis Ababa north to south and east to west, diving underground along certain sections and, as in Meskel Square, rising up high on elevated tracks.

Trains will run for up to 18 hours per day at intervals of three to six minutes at peak times and will be able to carry a maximum of 60,000 passengers per hour.

With journey times from the periphery slashed by up to two-thirds, the LRT has the potential to revolutionise transportation in this fast-growing city.

"Ground was broken on 31 January 2012 and the first trains are expected to start running on 1 January 2015," says project manager Behailu Sintayehu, adding that 52% of the construction has been completed so far.

More than 3,000 Ethiopian labourers and engineers, overseen by the main contractor China Railway Engineering Corporation (CREC), are working in shifts around the clock to meet the ambitious deadline. (AFP)

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