With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

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With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Thu Feb 09, 2017 10:24 am

The New York Times reports that the Chinese are building railroads in Africa. You certainly could not expect any American railway construction concern to be in the running for such a job:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/worl ... train.html

Fair Use:

DJIBOUTI — The 10:24 a.m. train out of Djibouti’s capital drew some of the biggest names in the Horn of Africa last month. Serenaded by a chorus of tribal singers, the crush of African leaders, European diplomats and pop icons climbed the stairs of the newly built train station and merrily jostled their way into the pristine, air-conditioned carriages making their inaugural run.

“It is indeed a historic moment, a pride for our nations and peoples,” said Hailemariam Desalegn, the prime minister of Ethiopia, shortly before the train — the first electric transnational railway in Africa — headed toward Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. “This line will change the social and economic landscape of our two countries.”

But perhaps the biggest star of the day was China, which designed the system, supplied the trains and imported hundreds of engineers for the six years it took to plan and build the 466-mile line. And the $4 billion cost? Chinese banks provided nearly all the financing.
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Re: With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby george matthews » Thu Feb 09, 2017 12:17 pm

In Ethiopia they have replaced the former metre gauge line from the coast with a Standard Gauge line, fully electrified. (The electricity is generated from falling water - no carbon dioxide emissions). They are doing the same in Kenya with a line from Mombasa to Rwanda to replace the colonial era metre gauge line through Kenya and Uganda to Rwanda. I think this line too will be electrified from the hydroelectricity in Kenya and Uganda. As I have spent several years in West Kenya I am disappointed that there is no replacement for the line to Kisumu which I used frequently to travel to Nairobi, which is apparently closed now. But the metre and Cape Gauge lines in Africa have outlived their usefulness. They were built because it was cheaper than to build SG lines in colonial days.
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Re: With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby johnthefireman » Thu Feb 09, 2017 1:32 pm

At the moment the Standard Gauge line in Kenya is planned for diesel operation, although I suppose one can hope that one day it will be electrified. Kenya is currently struggling to generate enough power for the country, and there is little opportunity for increased hydroelectric capacity here. Geothermal electric power is the future for Kenya. Ethiopia and Uganda are planning to increase hydroelectric generating capacity.
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Re: With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Thu Feb 09, 2017 1:40 pm

Gents, The Times' article was largely concerned about the passenger train. OK, so what will be the traffic base? If someone has visions of "Made in Ethiopia", I must wonder to what extent Djibouti is a deep water maritime port. It seems a little too close to where the "boys from Penzance" like to roam - and I wouldn't think concerns such as Maersk would want to be around those parts.
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Re: With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby philipmartin » Thu Feb 09, 2017 2:55 pm

Pirates of Penzance, with little Butercup?
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Re: With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby johnthefireman » Thu Feb 09, 2017 3:10 pm

Little Buttercup is in HMS Pinafore.
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Re: With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby philipmartin » Thu Feb 09, 2017 4:47 pm

Little Buttercuo. Thank you, John. After WWII, when the Doilycarte got to New York again, I attended some performances, and they put me in another world. Martyn Green was there.
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Re: With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby johnthefireman » Fri Feb 10, 2017 12:34 am

The last couple of weeks I found myself staying in a church guest house in South Sudan with a US priest who had sung in most of the G&S operettas in his younger days, and the other guests decided that we were a bad influence on each other as we would be singing choruses from Pinafore, Pirates, Mikado and Yeomen while we were doing the washing up after dinner. If I recall correctly I've sung in amateur productions of Pinafore, Yeomen and Trial by Jury, and in college many years ago I was the musical drector of Pinafore. A few years ago when my wife and I were hiking on the Cornish coastal trail we attended a performance of Pirates in a theatre which is a natural amphitheatre in the cliffs just outside Penzance - now that was spectacular. My US priest friend has now put it on his bucket list!

Back to the topic: the importance of Djibouti is that Ethiopia is a landlocked country since it lost the port of Massawa when Eritrea became independent, and it no longer has any access to Massawa due to the hostility between the two nations. Ethiopia therefore now has three main choices of port - Port Sudan, Mombasa (and/or Lamu when/if LAPSETT comes online) and Djibouti. All three of these have pros and cons, both politically and logistically, so Ethiopia needs to keep its options open and Djibouti is one important option.
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Re: With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby David Benton » Fri Feb 10, 2017 1:22 am

Usually, China builds railways to tap raw materials. A quick google search shows some mining, but currently only !% of Ethiopia's GDP. Perhaps that will be expanded.

As an aside, I was wondering if you were involved with the railway restoration effort for Band Aid charity in the 1980's , John?
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Re: With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby johnthefireman » Fri Feb 10, 2017 2:03 am

No, David, unfortunately I wasn't involved. I was working for the church and our movements were limited and our activities closely monitored by the security agencies, so there was little opportunity to pursue extracurricular interests. We needed a travel permit stamped by five different security offices (and with five passport photos, one for each) to move just 20 km out of Khartoum, and that was not granted automatically. I did spend some time in El Obeid, but the locos were working further west than that. I believe Phil Girdlestone and colleagues restored about six steam locomotives to operational condition to run on the far western leg of the line, from Babanusa into Darfur, as they had a lighter axle-load than the diesels and could pull heavier trains on that particular stretch of line, which used lighter-weight track. I'm really sorry I never got to see them in action. Since then I've tried to find detailed information on the project, but haven't found much. I believe Phil died in the last year or two, so that's some more institutional memory and steam expertise that is lost to the world.

Ah, Band Aid. I knew some of the people working for Band Aid and frequently saw one of their Land Rovers with "Love from Band Aid" painted on the door. I also saw the field which was full of their dead secondhand trucks in Khartoum - not one of their better decisions.
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Re: With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby philipmartin » Fri Feb 10, 2017 4:29 am

Here's the Wiki article on Band Aid charities for those who like me never heard of it before. Sorry about the slightly defective link.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Band_Aid_(band)
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Re: With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby george matthews » Fri Feb 10, 2017 8:07 am

Gilbert B Norman wrote:Gents, The Times' article was largely concerned about the passenger train. OK, so what will be the traffic base? If someone has visions of "Made in Ethiopia", I must wonder to what extent Djibouti is a deep water maritime port. It seems a little too close to where the "boys from Penzance" like to roam - and I wouldn't think concerns such as Maersk would want to be around those parts.


Ethiopia has a growing economy and needs connection to the world market. Lorries on the road are an inefficient and expensive means of transport. At present, and for the foreseeable future, a railway to the Red Sea is its only practical surface connection with the rest of the world. I have no idea what you mean by the Penzance reference. I think a daily passenger train is the most one can expect on this line whereas freight is the main purpose of the line.

In the future I think a rail connection with East Africa (Kenya) is possible. Possibly too with South Sudan, if that country ever achieves stability and development. As Ethiopia and Sudan are historically mutually hostile I think a rail connection to the Arab part of Sudan is unlikely.
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Re: With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Fri Feb 10, 2017 8:28 am

johnthefireman wrote:Back to the topic: the importance of Djibouti is that Ethiopia is a landlocked country since it lost the port of Massawa when Eritrea became independent, and it no longer has any access to Massawa due to the hostility between the two nations. Ethiopia therefore now has three main choices of port - Port Sudan, Mombasa (and/or Lamu when/if LAPSETT comes online) and Djibouti. All three of these have pros and cons, both politically and logistically, so Ethiopia needs to keep its options open and Djibouti is one important option.


As Mr. Benton notes, with only 1% of Ethiopia's economy comprised of "products of mines", what's in it for any investor? Using my "go to" source of the World Almanac, that shows, resources such as precious metals, potash and zinc.

But the region is politically unstable, Eritrea and Ethiopia are not exactly best buddies; the Chinese may now have their excuse to deploy military forces to the region. Let us not speculate on the effect that will have on the "World Order".

Finally, Mr Matthews, my Penzance reference is to piracy and a natural reaction by maritime companies to avoid the area to the fullest extent possible. The Maersk reference refers to the Danish maritime concern that has some of its vessels US flagged (think Captain Phillips) to represent their acquisition of Sea Land from CSX, as well as to enable US Coastal shipping.
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Re: With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby johnthefireman » Fri Feb 10, 2017 9:11 am

I haven't heard much about Somali piracy recently. Does anybody have any recent statistics? Maybe it has reduced due to international naval patrols, the actions of AMISOM and other factors?
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Re: With China's Help, Ethiopia Is A "Player"

Postby philipmartin » Fri Feb 10, 2017 6:51 pm

Thank you for the paragraph about your G&S experiences, John. I enjoy hearing them.
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