Addis Ababa opens first modern tramway in Sub-Saharan Africa

Passengers ride Ethiopia’s new tramway on September 20, 2015 in Addis Ababa (AFP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

Sub-Saharan Africa’s first modern tramway opened in the Ethiopian capital on Sunday, marking the completion of a massive infrastructure project hailed as a major step in the country’s economic development.

Even before the ribbon was cut, several hundred residents were queueing for a ride on the trams, which have the capacity to carry 60,000 passengers a day across the capital of Africa’s second most populous nation.

The two line, 34-kilometre (21 mile) system was built by the China Railway Engineering Corporation (CREC) . The project cost $475 million, 85 percent of which has been covered by China’s Exim bank.

“I’m very excited and very proud as an Ethiopian. We have been waiting for this for a long time. It will curb the transportation shortage,” said Dereje Daba, who had waited for two hours to become one of the first passengers on the new line.

Currently working in a café in the city center, he said the tram would cut his daily commute from one hour to just 20 minutes. So far only the north-south line is open, with the east-west line due to open next month.

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

“I have had many problems with the blue donkeys, with the long lines … I hope this will no longer be a problem,” said Tigist Dekele, a young woman who lives in the city.

Ticket prices have also been set at the low, accessible rate of no more than $0.30.

The light rail has been hailed as a milestone in fast-growing Ethiopia‘s development, and part of a cluster of major infrastructure projects that include railway lines, motorways and dams.

Ethiopia’s transport minister, Workneh Gebeyehu, said 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.”

Authorities have also promised the scheme will not be beset by power cuts, with a separate power grid set up to feed the lines.

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