The Chinese-built Ethiopia-Djibouti railway will set a new paragon for China-African cooperation on railways, said Meng Fengchao, board chairman of China Railway Construction Corp (CRCC).
The railway, which links the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and the port of Djibouti in Djibouti, will officially open service on Wednesday as Africa’s first electric railway. It is constructed by China Railway Group and China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, a subsidiary of CRCC.
Meng told Xinhua in an interview Tuesday that the project has set two successful models: introducing Chinese standards overseas to facilitate export of Chinese equipment and management; building railways to boost development of industrial parks, logistic centers and real estates along the route.
The Ethiopia-Djibouti railway is the first railway built using a complete set of Chinese standards outside China, which Meng said is key to its success.
Thanks to China’s outstanding performance in building and managing railways, Chinese railway standards eventually helped Chinese firms win over the project in Ethiopia, which, like many other countries, once viewed Western standards as the orthodox.
“After rounds of negotiations, The Ethiopian government came to realize that the Chinese standards are no inferior to Western ones, and more importantly, they best suit the country,” Meng said.
The option for Chinese standards facilitated the use of Chinese equipment, trains and materials in the construction. Working together, the Chinese firms ensured the railway’s completion in just four years, despite the conclusion of Western experts who evaluated the project that for Ethiopia to have an electric railway was a mission impossible.
The railway’s construction has also seen Chinese investments channeling into the industrial parks and other development projects along the line, which will help create jobs and boost industries for Ethiopia, Meng added.
The 752-km railway is capable of slashing travel time between Addis Ababa and Djibouti from 7 days on roads to about 10 hours, and providing landlocked Ethiopia with a faster access to the port. There have been high expectations for the railway to boost industrialization along its route.
Viewing the railway project not just as a commercial act, the two Chinese firms responsible for the construction have highlighted social responsibilities and localization.
According to Meng, CRCC has hired over 20,000 local workers in Ethiopia and 5,000 in Djibouti, who made up the majority of the construction workers.
The company also responded swiftly to the drought that has plagued Ethiopia since last year. Upon the request of the Ethiopian government, CRCC has employed its own locomotives to transport over 100,000 tonnes of relief supplies, according to Meng.
“We see the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway not just a region-connecting project. It is also a project to improve locals’ livelihoods and strengthen China-African friendship,” he said.