When people travel to a new city or town, they might notice the transportation system, the efficiency or the service. Then they might compare it to the transport system they know from their home country. Sometimes there is a stark difference. In Ethiopia the railway system or the trains are fairly new and still at its infancy stage. But in Brussels the railway industry is booming and well developed.
Let me raise a few points based on my specialization in the field of public transport, the reason of my coming to Belgium in the first place. Elderly Ethiopians may recall the name “Belgik” as the name of a gun. But Belgium with its capital Brussels is one of the few industrialized European countries.
It is located more or less in the center of Europe with its population of not more than 10 million. There are at least three main languages used by the people – French, Flemish and German, mainly along its northern borders.
The city transport services, be it by buses, or light train systems widely known as tramway lines, are only part of passenger services in the capital. The problems of transportation in the city are manifested in the lines at bus stops or taxi stations. The lines are tense at peak hours when civil servants and school children are commuting. This acute transport problem does not seem to be a temporary problem to be solved overnight because there is no plan in place to address the issue.
The transport service in the city is only one part of the whole system. Any analysis of transport issue would better be presented as a total transport system available in a country including the railway lines renovated but not operational or under construction. The electricity driven railway engines make the service part of the green economic development as well in their contribution to saving commuting time and their efficiency in carrying the masses.
The train as a means of transport is also preferred for its capacity to load all types of loads, live animals, liquids like water or fuel. The railway transport system has at least three main components, including the engine, the wagons and the rail or the steel lines. The steel rails in turn are detailed by what they call the “marshalling lines” because the wagons are laid like a long chain, one wagon after another, so that it cannot make a U-turn like other vehicles of a small size. This problem is curbed by the construction of a marshalling area where the company can transfer the chain from one engine to another either by linking the chain to another in the middle or at the back by means of a lifting the rail itself bit by bit until the big engine takes over to do the pulling.
I know this concept could not be easily grasped unless one has a closer look of the operation lines changing mechanisms.
The Ethio-Dijibouti renovation project had to be carried out because of the load carrying as well the gauge width had to be updated up to international standards. If my memory serves me right linear one meter is expected to carry 30 tons unlike the obsolete line carrying capacity of 12 or so tons. In case the railway company seeks to order spare parts these days, the factory does not find it difficult to pick one from the shelves and send it according to the orders and the standardized spare parts.
The public relations officer of the Ethiopian Railway Cooperation (ERC), in an interview he had recently with the media, said that the provisional acceptance test could have been carried out within a given time stipulated in the contract. One year in normal construction projects and not more than that subject to certain amendments if necessary. Such tests could not be possible in the absence of such opportunities.
As for the wagons, they are checking the adoption of the electrical systems, the cover or the “carasori” as they are popularly known and preparing the tariffs for the classes.
The synchronization of the traffic lights, the siren, or the trumpet sound systems to be blown at junctions and the programming of the speed to make sure that no collision occurs. Sometimes, particularly wherever one railway line is used as the only line serving as double lane one ought to wait for the other train at a marshalling area in precise times to avoid collision or derailment.
Travel tickets can be sold on board. The tariffs should be posted on the inner walls of the carriage or wagon. Toilet rooms need to be cleaned and not be used as a hiding room for smuggled merchandize as was the case in the olden times. Direct sales of tickets are the basic operations carried out at the main offices and the window tellers are scheduled to work there with daily auditing and inspectors.
Railway transport system is also very useful in developing towns and villages at junction stations. Adama, Mojo, Dire Dawa, Awash and little towns like Hurso were the residual results of the Ethio-Djibouti Railway transport system.
But it must be noted here that they were initially very expensive but very durable and lasting projects in countries that were colonized by the British. Countries such as India have some of the longest networks of railway lines that crisscross the nation covering almost the entire sub-continent.
The Indian engineers specializing in the constructions of railway lines were engaged in the feasibility and economic studies of the extension of a railway line to Asmara and other lines. The experts’ study was based on calculating the yearly tonnage of the incoming and outgoing volume of tonnage at any one time.
There can be a one-way sufficient tonnage in one direction and not enough on the return journey. This is an uneven balance of traffic of import and export trade. About five years’ time can be allotted for possible growth projection. If the figures show inadequacy even after five years’ time the project cannot be viable unless forced by political orders at any cost.
The Ethio-Djibouti Railway railway project is to be covered partly by the two respective countries and partly by the loans from China. The interest on the loans makes it necessary to be repaid with rates of interest making the two countries vulnerable to expedite repayments. Reminiscent of the British colonial period there are critics that argue that the south-to-south relations has simply resulted in the neo-colonial presence of the new Chinese exploitations. This may not be true but at least it can throw some shadow of suspicion or speculation.
The Chinese government usually does not get involved in the political affairs of a government. It is rather focused more on the search of jobs and practical implementations of exploiting natural resources like gas at Dalol or Kalub in the Ogaden where insurgency there had cost them dearly. This is just a side issue to be recalled in line with loans to be paid.
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