Modernizing Ethiopia Opens $475-Million, China-Built Urban Rail

Tekle Negash’s days of riding a battered minibus to work in Ethiopia’s capital are over. Boarding Addis Ababa’s $475-million, Chinese-built and funded Light Rail, he can slash his one-hour commute by two-thirds and still save money.

The 50-year-old trader was one of thousands who queued Sunday for the opening of the first phase of the state-owned urban railway, which comprises 34 kilometers (21.1 miles) of lines across the city. In a ceremony that featured a Chinese delegate’s impromptu singing and an Ethiopian dance troupe, Transport Minister Workneh Gebeyu described the project, one of the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, as a milestone in the nation’s journey out of poverty.

The Light Rail is the first in a raft of Chinese-funded infrastructure projects that Ethiopia’s government says will come online in the next few months and help maintain annual economic growth of more than 10 percent. Another railway along the main trade route to neighboring Djibouti may begin early in 2016, while the Gibe III hydropower dam’s reservoir has started filling, with its 1,870 megawatts capable of almost doubling Ethiopia’s generating capacity.

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