Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, Director General of UIC, participated on January 10 in the inaugural ceremony of this new Djibouti-Addis Ababa line.
The operation of this new line will be highly strategic for both countries and will also help to decongest the road traffic current main corridor of the flow of goods to Ethiopia.
The Republic of Djibouti joined UIC in December 2016.
Already back in 1894, a rail link between Addis Ababa and Djibouti had been inaugurated. Already then the railway solution had been found to give Ethiopia access to the sea and Djibouti the harbour. Already railways contributed to the mobility of people between neighbouring regions, and the exchange of goods to and from the Aden Gulf, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. More than a century ago, trains were contributing to the socio-economic development of a whole region, at the birth of Africa. But the standards of construction and operation of that first line were not adapted to the needs of the 20th century, and even less to the dynamism and to the global exchanges of the 21st century. The idea to rehabilitate that old line has been in all minds for long time. But it was necessary to look further. It was necessary to see bigger and to imagine that a new line would be part of a network and would bring its benefits to a large sub region, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi to start with. This vision gave birth to a concrete and ambitious project and was born at the highest level .. by President Ismail Omar Guelleh, and Ethjiopian prime ministers Mrs Zenawi, since deceased, peace to his soul, and now his Excellency Hailemariam Desalegu. And here we are! One century after then opening of the first line built by the French, we are today inaugurating a brand new first line of 750 km, with UIC international standards.
For me, as Director General of UIC, trying to bring together all railway undertakings across 100 countries in the world, and to promote the modern standards of a railway system, interoperable and safe, it is for me an immense pleasure.
Even more so when I see that the Railways of Djibouti have become a new member of our community at our latest General Assembly in St Petersburg on December. And that the Chinese railways, historic member of UIC since its creation, have contributed to the achievement of this project. This rebirth has a political and economical important meaning. For Ethiopia which is not landlocked by more. For Djibouti and its harbour, ideally located in East Africa, which is considerably enlarging its hinterland. For the direct jobs created during the construction and the upcoming operation and maintenance of the new line. For the indirect jobs, linked to the expected economic growth.
This rebirth also has a strong symbolic meaning. I can see at least three symbols:
a symbol of transmission
a symbol of progress
and the strong symbol of integration and peace.
Transmission: of course this new line is looking to the future. But it is also a heritage, the heritage of all the engineers, railway men and women who contributed to its development in the 19th century, thanks to the steam engine and metallic structures. Who ensured its survival in the 20th century thanks to electrification and signalling technologies. Who are enabling its rebirth in the 21th century, thanks to its fundamental values of safety, capacity and sustainability.
This heritage, together with the vision of our forefathers, has been transmitted from generation to generation. And it will continue to be in the essential training of staff to the operation, maintenance and management, principles and methods, either in Addis, or in Tianjin, or of course in UIC training centres as a member.
The symbol of progress, as this line has been built and will be operated, respecting the most modern standards. Railways have always been modernising through important efforts of research. This is one of the principal missions of UIC across the world, in order to open, to share and to connect the innovations and best practices of all its Members. We now have to move forward quicker and adapt to this new digital world, if we want to still be an actor and a vector of progress.
A symbol of integration. Because railway lines link together cities and regions. When they cross borders, they link countries or even continents, as the new silkroads show us. And when they work in complementarity with other modes, they play, as a backbone of logistic chains, an important role in the mobility of goods and people around the worls. This integration can bring a better understanding of others, a shared growth and a better stability.
In this respect, railways in general, and this new line in particular, can be considered as a geographic and historic link of unity, and as such a factor of peace.
The values of UIC, as a world association, are specifically unity, universality and solidarity.
The UIC African Region has also developed a railway master plan of integration. This master plan has been validated by the Union of Africa in Addis and the council of Transport Ministers in Malabo.
So let us together dream that this new line from Djibouti to Addis Ababa will one day reach Dakar!
But beyond technology or investments, only man can make that dream come true. Because man is stronger than all systems, whether technical, administrative or political.