Ethiopia to build new railway to Djibouti

Ethiopia has signed two deals with Chinese and Turkish construction companies to build two sections of a new railway linking the land-locked country’s north-eastern region to the new Red Sea port of Tadjourah in neighbouring Djibouti.

The two separate deals, worth a total $3.2 billion, are part of large-scale plans by the state-run Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC) to export potash, a key ingredient of fertiliser, from northern Ethiopia through Djibouti's third port Tadjourah, currently under construction.

A $1.5 billion agreement between ERC and state-run China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) relates to a 268-km section of railway line running south from the city of Mekele in the Tigray region to Woldia in North Wolla. The project includes the construction of 29 large bridges and 19km of tunnelling work through tough terrain.

Meanwhile Turkish company Yapi Merkezi will construct a 447-km section of track running north from Awash to Weldiya/Hara Gebeya. The $1.7 billion scheme was funded by the Import-Export Bank of Turkey.

Tadjourah will become the closest port access for Ethiopia's northern Afar region, where a number of major foreign potash firms from Canada, India and Australia are developing potash mines. Ethiopia currently uses the port of the capital Djibouti, located on the southern, opposite side of the Gulf of Tadjourah from the new port.

The entire project is scheduled for completion by 2015, according to Ethiopia’s foreign ministry, and is part of the government’s five-year development plan, launched in 2010, to upgrade the nation’s industries and infrastructure.