Ethiopia and Djibouti launched Africa’s first modern electrified railway connecting their respective capitals Thursday.
It also marked the first time that the complete spectrum of an overseas railway industry chain is fully backed by Chinese standards.
The construction of the 752.7-km Ethiopia-Djibouti railway adheres to China’s level-two electrified railway standards. It has a designed hourly speed of 120 kilometers and a total investment of US$4 billion.
As many African countries have been following different gauge standards of Western countries, they are not in a position to form an integrated African railway network.
In January 2004, African countries proposed an integrated railway network on the continent at the 31st congress of the Union of African Railways.
With support from regional organizations like the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community, construction projects at transnational and intra-regional levels have been put on agenda.
Before official planning was set for the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway project, the Ethiopian government, following repeated negotiations with Chinese firms, found that Chinese railway standards are not only by no means inferior to their Western counterparts, but also fit better with its national conditions.
The government eventually agreed to build the railway by following Chinese technology standards.
In the early stage of the railway’s construction, however, cases of confusion did pop up on the Ethiopian side with regard to understanding and implementing Chinese standards.
“When construction has just started, someone on the Ethiopian side, simply judging from a plain look, made a claim that some reinforcing steel bars inside a pier were substandard,” said Wu Xiaoling, a project manager of the China Railway Group (CREC). “But they dropped their unfounded suspicion of Chinese standards and quality after we had presented to them unquestionable proofs.”
As construction neared completion, bidding for operation and management right was opened in August 2015.
A consortium of the two Chinese contractors, CREC and the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), beat their Western rivals to win the bid.
At the end of July, 2016, the Chinese side was officially awarded the right to operate and manage the railway for six years.
At that point, a milestone was established in the Chinese railway industry as its technology standards were fully embraced by a foreign market across a complete railway industry chain.
Mr Allen Lee, General Manager of CCECC Ethiopia Construction PLC, recalled that local governments or other foreign rail firms, more often than not, took over the operation and management right after Chinese companies had finished the construction of railway projects in Africa. “Whenever a problem emerged in operation or maintenance, the Chinese contractors would be made a scapegoat for so-called ‘quality issues’, and this in turn would discourage African governments from constructing their own railways,” Mr Lee said. “Such an unfortunate scenario will be avoided in the case of the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway.”
The early completion of the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway and its top-grade quality have boosted the confidence of the Ethiopian and Djibouti governments to develop further the railway industry and set a positive example for neighboring countries.