The 752.7km Ethiopia-Djibouti railway modernisation project, also known as the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway, is the first modern electrified railway line in East Africa. The project is jointly owned the governments of Ethiopia and Djibouti and constructed by China Railway Group and China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).

The modernisation is expected to provide landlocked Ethiopia with faster access to the port of Djibouti.

In November 2015, the first freight services on the line began. The first train containing 1,125t of international food assistance departed from Djibouti to Ethiopia in December 2015.

The line was formally inaugurated for passenger services in October 2016.

Project background and details of Ethiopia-Djibouti railway line modernisation

The railway connecting Ethiopia with Djibouti via Dire Dawa is a 780km metre-gauge line opened in 1917. It is the only railway line that connects landlocked Ethiopia with Djibouti Port, a major cargo entry point, but deteriorated due to a lack of maintenance and management.

A pre-feasibility study conducted in 2007 highlighted the importance of renovating the line from an economic and financial perspective.

The modernisation involved replacing the metre-gauge section with a 1,435mm gauge line, and electrification at 25kV. Designed to accomodate trains travelling at 120km/h, the new line was constructed in compliance with Chinese electrified railway standards.

Chinese staff will manage operations on the line for five years, during which local employees will be given specialist training on the operations.

Construction on Ethiopia-Djibouti railway line modernisation

Construction on the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway project was initiated in 2011 and completed in October 2016.

It involved laying double-track for the first 115km from Addis Ababa to Adama, and single track for the remaining 600km to Djibouti. The construction employed approximately 20,000 local workers in Ethiopia and 5,000 in Djibouti.

Rolling stock

CSR Zhuzhou was awarded a contract to provide three passenger and 32 freight electric locomotives for the Ethiopia-Djibouti line in June 2014. The rolling stock consists of first and second-class coaches, dining cars and potentially sleeping cars.

The trains can withstand the region’s adverse conditions, including the 2,000m altitude difference, daytime temperatures up to 50°C and cold nights.

The freight trains operated on the line range from flat-wagons to transport containers.

Financing for the Ethiopian railway line modernisation

"The line was formally inaugurated for passenger services in October 2016."

The Ethiopia-Djibouti project was constructed with a total investment of $4bn. The Ethiopian section of the line cost $3.4bn, 70% of which was provided by China Exim Bank and 30% by the Ethiopian government.

The Djibouti Government contributed $878m for the project.

Contractors involved

In October 2011, China Railway Engineering Corporation (CREC) was awarded a $1.53bn engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract to build the 328.959km railway section between Sebeta / Addis Ababa and Miesso.

China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group (CREEC) was contracted to design the Sebeta-Adama-Mieso section in February 2012.

The contract for a 339km section, stretching from Miesso to Ethiopa’s border with Djibouti, was awarded to China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).

Finally, China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) was awarded a $505m contract to build the 100km-long Djibouti section in February 2012.