Ethiopia

Railroads

Ethiopia’s two original rail systems were the FrancoEthiopian Railroad (FER) and the Akordat-Mitsiwa railroad. A French company, the Compagnie Impériale des Chemins de Fers Ethiopiens, built the FER by authority of Emperor Menelik II. Construction began in l897 at the port city of Djibouti, and the final link reached Addis Ababa in l9l7. In l959 the Ethiopian government acquired a 50 percent holding in the line.

By the early 1960s, however, Ethiopia had taken steps to reduce its dependence on the FER, which could be disrupted by natural disaster or an attack by antigovernment forces. Nevertheless, Ethiopia suffered economically when sabotage associated with the 1977-78 Ogaden War temporarily closed the FER. As an alternate to the FER, the government expanded the port of Aseb and constructed a highway between Addis Ababa and Aseb. The opening of the Addis Ababa-Aseb highway prompted the FER to improve the railroad to remain competitive. In particular, the FER expanded investment in diesel locomotion, new rolling stock, and track. Despite these efforts, competition between the rail and road systems remained intense. For example, in 1986/87 the FER moved 335,400 tons of freight compared with a high of 375,000 tons in the mid-1960s. One of the major reasons for the decline was attacks on the rail line by rebel groups.

An Italian company completed construction of the AkordatMitsiwa line in l922. The Ethiopian government acquired ownership of the line after World War II. In the mid-1960s, the volume of freight and passenger traffic stagnated. By the early l970s, the railroad’s equipment was old, and the line was in need of track improvements. In the mid-1970s, operation ceased to be viable because of the threat posed by Eritrean guerrillas and the realization that existing road facilities could handle the railroad’s traffic. For these reasons, the government closed the line in l976, and it was partially destroyed in later fighting.

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