Addis-Djibouti Railway Line hits headwinds

Ethiopian Railways: Facing financial
 and technical  Headwinds
The four-year-old Addis- Djibouti Standard Gauge Railway line suffers a myriad of operational and financial difficulties that hamper its efficiency and reliability, a recent study says. Other sources complain of frequent stoppages, some taking as long as two weeks to solve.

Power outages, the study shows, is a major problem affecting not only its reliability but also its safety. The study, “Sino-Ethiopia evolving partnership along Addis Ababa-Djibouti, railway economic belt” identified power outages, poor maintenance, thefts, lack of funds, and accidents as the leading problems.

Frequent power cuts disrupted operations including rescue, slope stopping, regression, and are a very serious risk to the train’s safety. The study found out that train lost 48,000 hours of operation arising from more than 8000 power outages since its inception in 2016.

 Sixty percent of these interruptions lasted up to three hours to rectify; three percent lasted more than a day than, while1.3 percent lasted longer. This puts the $5 billion investment at stake.


 On safety of the train and its cargo, the study, quoted by a local newspaper, The Ethiopian Reporter established that there were 573 incidents recorded up to October 31, 2019. These include; theft of basic equipment such as rail fastenings, poor maintenance and lack of funds. These, says the study, pose a serious risk of derailment and accidents.

It refers to April 2019 for instance, when a 53-wagon train to Djibouti derailed on a flooded and muddy line in East Shewa Zone in the Oromia. This incident cost an estimated 200 million to 300 million birr(US$6.22 to 9.33 Million) due to the suspension of its operations for several days.

Other accident-related risks include collision with livestock and theft of critical spare parts on the railway line such as fasteners. In addition to delays, they pose a major derailment risk. These risks combined have forced the operators to reduce its travel speed from the projected 120 Kilometres per hour to 50 kilometers.
Kenya's SGR: Prpoperly Protecte 

Compounding the problems, the study found, is poor maintenance of rolling stock. It found that owing to Lack of maintenance facilities, including spare parts, a significant number of locomotives are defective. For instance eight of the 35 electric engines and two of the Six diesel engines, have serious faults. The 502 freight wagons, the study found, are operating with serious defects such as bearing oil seepage and,  air leakage in the braking system, that jeopardize the trains’  safety.

 The challenges facing the Addis - Djibouti line is a wake-up call for African governments that are currently, considering electric trains. They must avoid placing the "Cart before the Horse" i.e they should not invest in the electric train if they do not have sufficient idle power generating capacity. Experts say that an electric train requires  1000MW to run efficiently. Ethiopia’s known power generating capacity is 4500MW. This does not leave it with sufficient idle capacity to run an electric train.

Further, high-speed Railway lines need to be separated from other forms of users, such as animals, and motor vehicles. This is why they are elevated. In the Case of the Addis Ababa- Djibouti Line, there are no such protections for it has level crossing rather than bridges. That is why thieves and other malicious characters can steal the Line Fastenings.


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