New city rail hoped to ease Addis’ transport problems

Ethiopia’s biggest city and commercial hub, Addis Ababa is expanding rapidly and is now among the ten largest cities in Sub – Saharan Africa. But with an inadequate public transport system and road construction underway in all corners of the city commuters face daily transport challenges and traffic congestion, especially during rush hours, when on average one needs to wait for at least 15 to 25 minutes to get into a bus or taxi.

With the roll out of the Addis Light Railway System, which is now 70 percent built and due to be complete in January 2015, commuters hope that transport woes will be a thing of the past.

“I’m really impressed about the ongoing rail project,” said potential rail commuter Hakim Siraj. “I hope I will be able to get to my office on time once the construction is completed. I can’t wait to see it going operational.”

The city’s $475 million light railway system is part of an ambitious five-year growth plan drafted by government. The 34.24 km network is based on two initial lines, one running north-south and the other running east-west.

The light rail network is hoped to have the capacity to transport 15,000 passengers per hour per direction upon completion.

Map of Addis Light Rail System supplied by Ethiopian Railway Corporation.

The Ethiopian government has borrowed 85 percent of the funds for the rail project from the Export-Import Bank of China.

In Addis, currently, there is a big gap between public transport demand and supply. The service standard is also low. Old neighborhoods are far from the main roads and expanding areas of the city are not well served by public transport.

The city’s current transportation system is marked by a poor access network, lack of adequate public transport services, continuous increases in transport fees, lack of smooth traffic flow and infrastructure for pedestrians, and a high rate of traffic accidents.

Government admits that there is a shortage of public transport service in the city.

“There is no high occupancy public transport service,” said Engineer Fekade Haile, head of the Addis Ababa City Roads Authority. “Though there are different transport service providers, there is no coordination among them as well. The service is limited to major roads and its coverage is very low.”

Without rail transit within the city commuters rely on buses and taxis. And the existing public transportation is of a low quality because of the limited number of buses and taxis and poor management.

Currently, there are only 550 Anbessa buses — the red and yellow public buses owned by government — in service, each with a 100-seat capacity. There are also 9,200 privately owned mini-bus taxis with 11-seat capacity, 462 midi-buses with 27-seat capacity and 4,000 saloon taxis with 5-seat capacity operating in the city.

By 2020, the city’s population is projected to reach eight million based on the current annual growth rate of 3.8 percent.

Engineer Yehualaeshet Jemere, chief officer of the light railway’s construction and project execution department, said different multi-objective socio-economic indicators or criteria have been used to prioritize for the development of the city’s railway network.

“Addis Ababa’s transport problems are diverse,” he said. “The system [has an] aged fleet and there is a chaotic movement of mini-bus taxis. Besides, there is an environmentally unacceptable emission of carbon dioxide and travel within the city is unsafe, hazardous to life and property.”

The city hopes to compensate the costs for the project through tickets, side business along the railway system, in carbon credit payments, and through advertisements, he added.

Along with the introduction of the light rail, the Transport Ministry has come up with a transport policy to meet the city’s growing mobility needs.

“The general objective of the Addis Ababa City Transport Policy is to enhance the status of the city as international seat by introducing seamless traffic flow through a modern traffic management system,” the transport policy reads.

Top priority has been given to mass transport along major roads and intersections and to ensuring improved, efficient and high level service, according to the policy.


Elias Meseret is a correspondent for the Associated Press, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Follow him on twitter or contact him via email:

Main image: The Addis Light Railway System is 70 percent built and due to be complete in January 2015. Photo supplied by the Ethiopian Railway Corporation.

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