Page last updated at 08:48 GMT, Monday, 15 June 2009 09:48 UK

Ethiopia plans new rail system

By Elizabeth Blunt
BBC News, Ethiopia

New train tracks laid in Ethiopia
The rail project has benefited from European Union funding

The Ethiopian government has confirmed it plans to build an extensive railway system, despite some of the world's most challenging terrain.

At the moment the country has only one railway - the historic narrow gauge line from the capital Addis Ababa to the neighbouring country of Djibouti.

But it is in very poor condition and only half of the line is operational.

The plan involves the construction of 5,000km (3,000 miles) of track, mainly for carrying goods, officials say.

Renovation project

Ethiopia's old imperial railway was built by the French for the Emperor Menelik in the early 20th Century. But it is long past its best.

There is an average of one derailment a week.

Ethiopian train
Officials expect train travel to be more popular than road travel

But a major European Union-funded renovation project is now under way.

Engineers are consolidating embankments, strengthening the bridges, re-laying about one-third of the track, using better quality rails and replacing flimsy metal sleepers with more solid concrete ones.

When that is done, the Ethiopian government intends to embark on its even more ambitious plan - to create a whole new rail system.

This time it will be standard gauge, electrified to make use of Ethiopia's huge hydro power potential. It is primarily aimed at goods traffic.

The man in charge, Getachew Betru, said such a system would make a huge contribution to Ethiopia's development.

One of the reasons Ethiopia had stayed poor, he said, was because it was not connected.

And, he said, railways were inherently much more popular with the poor than - for instance - the donor-funded tarmac road network that is mostly used by tourists and aid workers.

The government is still looking for partners to build the new railway.

But it says it is convinced that trains will be the transport of the future in Ethiopia.

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