New Service on Djibouti-Addis Ababa Railway

The New York Times has announced opening of service on the new railway line from Djibouti to Addis Ababa (including videos of opening ceremony and trains):

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.”

The predecessor of this line was Evelyn Waugh’s access to Abyssinia on his trips in the 1930s. That line was built by the French and completed in 1917. It was an arduous journey, taking three days with stops overnight en-route. These trips are described in Waugh’s travel books Remote People and Waugh in Abyssinia as well as in fictionalized form in his novels Black Mischief and Scoop. In the latter novel, the unreliability of the train service contributes to the plot. Waugh’s most detailed description of this trip is in Remote People (Penguin, 2001, pp. 20-27). Here’s an excerpt:

Normally there is a weekly service which does the journey in three days, the two nights spent in Dirre-Dowa and Hawash. There are several good reasons for the train not travelling at night; one is that the lights in the train are liable to frequent failure; another that during the rainy season it is not unusual for parts of the line to get washed away; another that the Galla and Danakil, through whose country the line passes, are still primarily homicidal in their interests, and in the early days of the railway formed a habit, not yet wholly eradicated, of taking up steel sleepers here and there to forge into spear-heads.

That railway line was allowed gradually to disintegrate, closing in 2008. The new service, which parallels the old railroad, is entirely over electrified lines in new equipment, both built by the Chinese. The scheduled time from Djibouti to Addis is 12 hours. 

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