Sub-Saharan Africa’s First Modern Tramway opened in Addis Ababa

Sub-Saharan Africa’s first modern tramway opened in the Addis Ababa on Sunday, marking the completion of a massive $475-million infrastructure project hailed as a major step in Ethiopia’s economic development.

Several hundred residents queued for a ride at 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 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.  He pointed out that the tramway project would also boost Ethiopia’s bid to make the city — already the seat of the African Union — the undisputed continental hub.

“This is a sign of modernity. This is a very modern train that will serve the capital city of Africa. We are very proud of that,” he said. “The light rail is not for commercial purposes. Tickets are very cheap. It will serve the people with low income.” Authorities have also promised the scheme will not be beset by power cuts, with a separate power grid set up to feed the lines.

The two line, 34-kilometre system is expected to carry 15,000 people per hour in one direction, meaning it could attain four times that in all directions, with a projected top speed of 70km/hr. So far, only the north-south line is open, with the east-west line due to open next month.

BusinessDay Live reports that the tramway is designed to relieve the mounting strain on the city’s roads, where public transport for the five million and growing population has consisted of aged buses and so-called “blue donkeys” — a network of cramped, polluting minibuses.

Ticket prices have also been set at the low, accessible rate of no more than $0.30 and the line will cost about 1.5 billion birr a year to run, according to Workneh.

The light rail has been hailed as a milestone in fast-growing but impoverished Ethiopia’s development, and it is the first in a raft of 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, according to Bloomberg Business.

The operational track, which includes elevated sections and tunnels, runs from Addis Ababa’s main industrial area on its southern fringe, through the trading district of Merkato to the historic center of Piazza. An east-west line skirts the African Union’s headquarters, soars past the main government district and out to modern housing developments.

Ethiopia, with a population of 94 million, is projected by the IMF to grow by 8% in 2015-16, the second-fastest pace on the continent.

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