China Railway Group to face charges

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The 115 years old Ethio-Djibouti Railway is going to sue China Railway Group Limited,  a Chinese company contracted to build the Mojo- Me’eso new railway project, for allegedly dismantling a metal bridge the former built over Mermersa River, an area located between Me’eso and Metehara, and Feto Gabriel, an area between Wolenchiti and Metehara, without its consent. The century-old Railway Company estimated the alleged cost of the damage at close to 3.2 million birr.

“CREC inflicted the damage on the property of Ethio-Djibouti Railway Company without our knowledge. We will file charges against it at a court of law once we give legal notice,” said Asrat Makonnen, Legal and Administration Head of the Railway Company, in a briefing to journalists at his office last Thursday.     
In a letter addressed to CREC, the Ethio-Djibouti Railway company recognizes that construction work is underway, but that ‘damage has occurred to various track materials between Adama and Wolenchiti towns.’
The said track materials have allegedly been ‘demolished and removed illicitly.’
The Ethio- Djibouti Railway Company requires CREC to make good the damage caused, which was ‘provisionally assessed to be around 3,196,199 birr within five days of receipt of   legal notice.’ 
The damaged parts listed in the draft letter include 588 meters of rail, at 25 kg per meter including fish plates, 209 steel sleepers including fastenings, and a steel bridge weighing 14.1 tons, around Mermersa River, 354 kilometer west of Dire Dawa. The other is 96 meters of rail at 25 kg per meter, including fish plates and 60 slippers, including fastenings in the Feto Gabriel area, 430 kilometers away, in the same direction. 
The company also claims that it has lost property valued at more than 27 million birr in an armed robbery. It claims that though the perpetrators of the illegal act were caught red-handed, they were released without proper investigation or penalty.
Railway transport is one of the cheapest means of transporting Ethiopia’s bulk imports.  The operation of the Ethio-Djibouti Railway was put on hold for years following the launch of the rehabilitation project of the rail at a cost of 50 million Euros obtained from the European Union. Though the rehabilitation project office performed operational tests last October, it has yet to resume operation.
The Ethiopian and Djiboutian Joint Ministerial board have sealed a deal to carry on operating the Ethio- Djibouti Railway until 2031.
The 785 kilometer long railway was brought into existence during the reign of Emperor Menelik II in 1894. Still, in over a century, Ethiopia was unable to expand its service.
“The National Railway Project is our second biggest grand project next to the Great Renaissance Dam project. Ethiopia cannot afford to sustain economic progress without building it in the coming three years of the GTP. It is a project that has no alternative but to propel Ethiopia’s development forward,” said Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, explaining the importance of realizing the railway project, while defending his administration’s policy at the House of Peoples’ Representative on October 16, 2012.    
The Ethiopian government is engaged in the formation of a multibillion dollar railway development project aimed at connecting the four corners of the country, mainly through vendor financing. More than 2000 km of rail lines are expected to be constructed in Ethiopia when the government’s ambitious five-year governing economic plan, the GTP, expires at the end of 2015.
The Imperial Railway Company of Ethiopia was a semi-private firm founded in 1894 to build and operate a railway across eastern Ethiopia from Addis Ababa to the port of Djibouti, in what was at the time French Somaliland. The firm failed in 1906 when political discord halted construction, and it failed to obtain any new capital. The portion of rail that ran from Djibouti to the middle of the Ethiopian desert was completed. Its terminus evolved into the city of Dire Dawa.
Discussion of an Ethiopian railway was initiated by Alfred Ilg, an advisor to Emperor Menelik II. He had attempted to interest the previous emperor and other Ethiopian political figures in the construction of a railway to replace the six-week mule trek between the capital and the French port city, but had no success. When Emperor Menelik acceded to the throne in 1889, new negotiations began and a decree was granted on February 11, 1893, to study the construction of a rail line. Ilg, a Swiss citizen, and a number of French associates put together a firm and received a royal charter on March 9, 1894, enabling them to start work. Emperor Menelik did not put any funds into the venture, but did grant a 99-year lease to Ilg and his associates in return for a number of shares in the firm and half of all profits in excess of 3,000,000 francs. Furthermore, the firm was obliged to construct a telegraph line along the route.
It took until 1897 before the necessary permission from French authorities was received, by which time significant opposition in Ethiopia had materialized. Elements of the traditional nobility were opposed to the construction, and there were popular demonstrations against it. There was also opposition from the British legation in Addis Ababa, which feared a reduction in traffic to the port of Zeila in British Somaliland according to Wikipedia.